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Title: Hi Jolly!
Author: Kjelgaard, Jim, 1910-1959
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hi Jolly!" ***

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http://www.pgdpcanada.net



                                  HI JOLLY!

                               By Jim Kjelgaard

                         Illustrated by Kendall Rossi


    Dodd, Mead & Company New York 1960

    © _by Eddy Kjelgaard, 1959._

    _Second printing_

    _All rights reserved_

    _No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without
    permission in writing from the publisher_

    _The general situation and many of the events described in this book
    are based upon historical facts. However, the fictional characters
    are wholly imaginative: they do not portray and are not intended to
    portray any actual persons._

    _Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 59-6197_

    _Printed in the United States of America by Vail-Ballou Press, Inc.,
    Binghamton, N. Y._



    _Dedicated to_ DOROTHY AND ED HANSEN



Contents


     1. ALI FINDS THE DALUL        1

     2. FUGITIVE                  21

     3. AMBUSH                    38

     4. THE HADJ                  52

     5. THE UNPARDONABLE SIN      64

     6. THE STRANGE SHIP          78

     7. ANOTHER PILGRIMAGE        94

     8. TROUBLE                  105

     9. LIEUTENANT BEALE         120

    10. THE EXPEDITION           133

    11. THE WILDERNESS           145

    12. THE ROAD                 158

    13. REUNION                  174



1. Ali Finds the Dalul


The first gray light of very early morning was just starting to thin
the black night when Ali opened his eyes. He came fully awake, with no
lingering period that was part sleep and part wakefulness, but he kept
exactly the same position he had maintained while slumbering. Until he
knew just what lay about him, he must not move at all.

Motion, even the faintest stir and even in this dim light, was sure to
attract the eye of whoever might be near. In this Syrian desert, where
only the reckless turned their backs to their own caravan companions,
whoever might be near--or for that matter far--could be an enemy.

When Ali finally moved, it was to extend his right hand, very slowly and
very stealthily, to the jeweled dagger that lay snugly sheathed beneath
the patched and tattered robe that served him as burnous by day, and bed
and bed covering by night. When his fingers curled around the hilt, he
breathed more easily. Next to a camel--of course a _dalul_, or riding
camel--a dagger was the finest and most practical of possessions, as
well as the best of friends.

As for owning a _dalul_, Ali hadn't even hoped to get so much as a
baggage camel for this journey. When it finally became apparent that the
celestial rewards of a trip to Mecca would be augmented by certain
practical advantages if he made his pilgrimage now, he had just enough
silver to pay for the _ihram_, or ceremonial robe that he must don
before setting foot in the Holy City. Even then, it had been necessary
to provide Mustapha, that cheating dog of a tailor, with four silver
coins--and two lead ones--and Mustapha had himself to thank for that!
When Ali came to ask the price, it was five pieces of silver. When he
returned to buy, it was six.

But the _ihram_, as well as the fifth silver coin which Mustapha might
have had if he'd retained a proper respect for a bargain, were now safe
beneath Ali's burnous. The dagger was a rare and beautiful thing. It had
been the property of some swaggering desert chief who, while visiting
Damascus, Ali's native city, had imprudently swaggered into a dark
corner.

Though he frowned upon killing fellow humans for other than the most
urgent reasons, and he disapproved completely of assassins who slew so
they might rob, it never even occurred to Ali that he was obliged to do
anything except disapprove. He knew the usual fate of swaggering desert
chieftains who entered the wrong quarters of Damascus, and, when the
inevitable happened, he did not spring to the rescue. That was not
required by his code of self-preservation. So the assassin snatched his
victim's purse and fled without any intervention. Ali got the dagger.

In the light of the journey he was undertaking, and the manner in which
he was undertaking it, a dagger was infinitely more precious than the
best-filled purse. Mecca was indeed a holy city, but of those who
traveled the routes leading to it, not all confined themselves to holy
thoughts and deeds. Many a pilgrim had had his throat slit for a trifle,
or merely because some bandit felt the urge to practice throat slitting.
A dagger smoothed one's path, and, as he waited now with his hand on the
hilt of his protective weapon, Ali thought wryly that his present path
was in sore need of smoothing.

He'd left Damascus two weeks ago, intending to offer his services, as
camel driver, to the Amir of the nearby village of Sofad. He would then
travel to Mozarib with his employer's caravan. The very fact that there
would be force behind the group automatically meant that there would
also be reasonable safety. Located three days' journey from Damascus,
two from Sofad, Mozarib was the assembly point and starting place for
the great Syrian _Hadj_, or pilgrimage. It went without saying that, if
Ali tended to his camel driving and kept his dagger handy, he would go
all the way to Mecca with the great _Hadj_, which often consisted of
5000 pilgrims and 25,000 camels.

Thus he had planned, but his plans had misfired.

He reached Sofad on the morning scheduled for departure, only to find
that the Amir, at the last moment, had decided to make this first march
toward Mozarib a cool one and had left the previous night. Hoping to
catch up, but not unmindful of the perils that beset the way when he
neared the camp of the Sofad pilgrims, Ali had decided that it would be
prudent to reconnoiter first. It had indeed been prudent.

Peering down at the camp from a nest of boulders on a hillock, Ali was
just in time to see the Amir and his fourteen men beheaded, in a most
efficient fashion, by sword-wielding Druse tribesmen who'd taken the
camp. Afterwards, the raiders had loaded everything except the stripped
bodies of their victims on their own camels and departed.

It was a time for serious thinking, to which Ali had promptly devoted
himself. Unfortunately, he failed also to think broadly, and the only
conclusion he drew consisted of the fact that it was still possible for
him to go on and join the _Hadj_. Camel drivers were always welcome.
Sparing not a single thought to the idea that Druse raiders would
rather kill than do anything else, Ali had almost been caught unawares
by the one who had slipped hopefully back to see if he could find
somebody else to behead. Ali had taken to his heels and, so far, he had
proved that he was fleeter than his pursuer. Tenacious as any bloodhound,
the Druse had stayed on his trail until yesterday morning. Now he was
shaken. Ali knew that he was somewhere south of Damascus and, with any
luck, might yet join the _Hadj_.

Help would not come amiss. Ali drank the last sip from his goatskin
water flask, shifted his dagger just a little, so it would be ready to
his hand should he have need of it, and made ready to address himself to
the one unfailing Source of help.

Though he had no more water, there was an endless supply of sand. Good
Moslems who could read and write had assured him that this statement
appears in the _Koran_: "When ye rise up to prayer, wash your faces and
your hands and your arms to the elbows, and wipe your heads and your
feet to the ankles." Though it was commonly assumed that one would
cleanse himself with water before daring to mention Allah's name,
special provisions applied to special occasions. For those who had no
water, sand was an acceptable substitute.

His ablutions performed, Ali faced toward Mecca, placed an open hand on
either side of his face and intoned, "God is most great." Remaining in
a standing position, he proceeded to the next phase of the prayer that
all good Moslems must offer five times daily.

It was the recitation of the opening _sura_, or verse, of the _Koran_.
Ali, who'd memorized the proper words, had not proceeded beyond, "In the
name of the merciful and compassionate God. Praise belongs to God--"
when he was interrupted by the roar of an enraged camel.

Ali halted abruptly, instantly and completely, forgetting the sacred
rite in which he'd been absorbed and that had five more complete phases,
each with prescribed gestures, before he might conclude it. When he
finally remembered, he was a little troubled; Allah might conceivably
frown upon whoever interrupted prayers to Him. But Ali remembered also
that Allah is indulgent toward those who are at war, in danger, ill, or
for other good reasons are unable to recite the proper prayers in the
proper way at the prescribed times.

Surely a camel in trouble--and, among other things, the beast's roar
told Ali that it was in trouble--was the finest of reasons for ignoring
everything else. Not lightly had the camel been designated as Allah's
greatest gift to mankind. To slight His gift would be to slight Him. His
conscience clear on that point, Ali devoted himself to analyzing the
various things he'd learned about when a camel roared in the distance.

The earliest recollection of Ali, who'd never known father or mother,
was of his career as a rug vendor's apprentice in the bazaar of The
Street Called Straight. His master worked him for as many hours as the
boy could stay awake, beat him often and left him hungry when he was
unable to steal food. But the life was not without compensations.

Though no longer enjoying the flourishing trade it had once known,
Damascus sat squarely astride the main route between the vast reaches of
Mohammedan Turkey and Mecca, the city that every good Moslem must visit
at least once during his lifetime. The Turks came endlessly, and in
numbers, and since it's only sensible to do a little trading, even when
on a holy pilgrimage, when they reached Damascus, they stopped to trade
at The Street Called Straight. But though the pilgrims were interesting,
Ali found the camels that carried both the Turks and their goods
infinitely more so.

He knew them all--plodding baggage beasts, two-humped bactrians, the
hybrid offspring of bactrians and one-humped camels, and all the species
and shades of species in between. But though he liked all camels, he
saved his love for the dromedary, the _heira_, the _hygin_, riding
camel, or, as Ali called them, the _dalul_.

Invariably ridden by proud men and never used for any purpose other
than riding, they were a breed apart. Slighter and far more aristocratic
than the baggage beasts, they could carry a rider one hundred miles
between sunrise and sunset, satisfy themselves with a few handfuls of
dates when the ride ended, and go without water for five days. Their
pedigrees, in many instances longer than those of their riders, dated
back to pre-Biblical history. The owner of a _dalul_ considered such a
possession only slightly less precious than his life.

It was when he became acquainted with the _dalul_ that Ali invented his
own mythical father. This parent was not a nameless vagabond, petty
thief, or fly-by-night adventurer who never even knew he'd sired a son
and wouldn't have cared if he had, but a renowned trainer of _dalul_. It
was he who went to the camel pastures and chose the wild young stallions
that were ready for breaking. Though they would kill any ordinary man
who ventured near, Ali's father gentled them and taught them to accept
the saddle and rein. Ali determined that he himself must go out with the
camels and promptly ran away from his master.

Because he was too young to be of any imaginable use, the few caravan
masters who condescended to look at him usually aimed a blow right after
the look. For two years Ali was one of the numerous boy-vagabonds who
infested the bazaars of Damascus. If such a life did not elevate the
mind it could not help but sharpen the wits.

Then, just after his ninth birthday, Ali got his chance to go out with a
caravan. It was a very small and very poor one, fewer than fifty camels,
and the caravan master decided to take Ali only because he was a boy. As
such, quite apart from the fact that he could safely be browbeaten, it
was reasonable to assume that he had not had time to learn all the
tricks of experienced drivers, the more talented among whom have been
known to get rich, and leave the owners poor, on just one journey.

Apart from their uses and physical functions, which he learned so
precisely that one glance enabled him to cite any camel's past history,
age, present state of health, and what it would probably do next, Ali
came to appreciate the true miracle of a camel. He was the one in ten
thousand, the camel driver who knew everything the rest did--and much
they did not--and who transcended that to understand clearly the nature
of the camel itself. So fine was his touch and so complete the affinity
between camels and himself, that even beasts thought hopelessly
unmanageable responded to him.

Nine years old when he made his first trip, Ali had spent the past nine
years on the caravan routes. He'd been to Baghdad, Istanbul, Tosya,
Trebizond. He went where the camels went and never cared if it was two
hundred miles or two thousand. But though every member of a caravan is
entitled to trade for himself, and many a camel driver has become a
caravan master or owner, Ali was as poor as on the day he started.

Partly responsible for this was his consuming passion for camels and his
negligible interest in trading. Far more at fault was his origin. The
men of the caravans knew him as Ali, and only Allah could know more
about camels. To the merchants, who saw camels merely as the most
convenient method for transporting goods, he remained the orphan waif of
Damascus. They turned their backs upon one who had neither family nor
prestige, who could point to no achievement other than an outstanding
skill with camels. Now, camels were very convenient, but, as every
merchant in a perfumed drawing room knew, they also smelled!

So Ali had a most compelling reason for deciding to undertake his
pilgrimage at this time. After he'd been to Mecca, like all others who
have completed the difficult and dangerous journey, he'd be entitled to
add the prefix "Hadji" to his name. That alone would never make him the
equal of the wealthy merchants who also had been to Mecca, but it would
surely make him the superior of all who had not. And this was a vast
number, since the life of a merchant is not necessarily conducive to
physical achievement and the journey to Mecca is hard.

Now, in a desert wilderness, while on the way to Mecca, a camel had
cried out to Ali, and he could not have helped responding, even if the
camel had cried while he was at prayer in the _masjid-al-haram_, the
Great Mosque of Mecca.

Its roar had already told Ali many things about the beast, including the
exact direction he must take to find it and approximately how far he
must go before locating it. The sound had had a certain timbre and
quality that hinted of regal things and regal bearing, therefore it was
not a baggage animal. However, neither did it have the awesome blast of
a fully-grown _dalul_. It was not challenging another stallion to
battle, but roaring in rage and defiance at something that it did not
know how to fear.

Ali's hand slipped back to the hilt of his dagger. Unmindful of the hot
little wind that had just arisen, and that would become hotter as the
day grew longer, he started toward the camel. Although he had never been
here before, he had traveled similar country often enough to make a
reasonably accurate guess as to the terrain that lay ahead.

It was a land of low hills, or hillocks, whose sides and narrow crests
supported a straggling growth of Aleppo pine intermixed with scrubby
brush. There was more than average rainfall, so the trees were bigger
and not as parched as those found in very arid regions. The camel was in
a gulley between the second and third hills. Ali climbed the hill, slunk
behind an Aleppo pine, peered around the trunk and gasped.

There was a camp in the gulley--and a string of baggage camels and
men--but at first glance Ali saw nothing except the _dalul_. Of a deep
fawn color, which stamped it as one of the Nomanieh dromedaries, it was
still so young that it had not yet attained full growth. Located apart
from the rest, each separate leg was held by a separate rope, and the
bonds were stretched so tightly that the beast could hardly move. A
fifth rope, that encircled its neck, was equally tight.

Evidently bound in such a fashion for many hours, the young _dalul_ was
weary, thirsty and choking. But, despite its obvious misery, this was
far and away the most magnificent beast Ali had ever beheld. It was the
riding camel he'd often dreamed of when, plodding along some lonely
caravan trail, he'd conjured up mental images of the perfect _dalul_.

Further examination revealed why the young _dalul_ was bound so cruelly.
Ali's lip curled in contempt.

The men--he counted nineteen--were part of the same band of Druse
tribesmen who'd pillaged the camp of Sofad and massacred its people.
Evidently they considered themselves safe here, since they kept no watch
at all and seemed to be unconcerned about anything. The twenty-nine
camels on the picket line were all stolid baggage animals such as even
Druse could handle. The young _dalul_ was something else.

There was no telling just how it had fallen into the hands of the
Druse; a _dalul_ so fine would certainly be carefully guarded.
Regardless of how the raiders had obtained the animal, they could not
handle it. Obviously, it had turned on them and probably hurt
somebody--Ali voiced a fervent hope that the injury was not a light
one--and now the _dalul_ was tightly bound, to insure that it would hurt
nobody else.

Ali whispered, "Have patience, brother."

Slowly and thoroughly, beginning at one end and letting his eyes move
alertly to the other, Ali inspected the camp and confirmed an ugly truth
that had already been pointed out by common sense. With eight good men
at his back, and the element of surprise in their favor, he would have a
reasonable chance of storming the camp. But, as things were--

He'd help neither the _dalul_ nor himself by joining his ancestors at
this moment, Ali decided. He pulled the burnous over his head, drew the
dagger from its sheath and settled down to wait.

The light grew, and the heat with it, as the sun climbed higher. Ali
risked moving just enough to pick up a pebble and put it on his tongue.
He had no water, and if the wait proved a long one, the pebble would
help relieve thirst. He must not move again, though. The merest flicker
could be one too many, and certainly a Druse tribesman with even a
baggage camel could run down a man who hadn't any.

A camel rider, coming into camp from the south, roused not the least
interest among the men already there, and Ali took mental note of the
incident. Doubtless these raiders were flanking the great _Hadj_, but
surely they could not be insane enough to attack it. Probably they
intended to waylay small groups coming from various sources to join the
_Hadj_, just as they had the camp of Sofad. The very fact that the camel
rider came almost unnoticed proved that the raiders had a sentry posted
to the south, and the sentry had somehow advised his companions of the
rider's approach. Apparently, they anticipated no interference from any
other point of the compass.

Sudden hope rose in Ali's heart. The rider might be bringing news of
another caravan to be attacked, and, if so, he and his companions would
depart very shortly. Since they did not know how to control it anyhow,
they would not take the _dalul_ with them. Ali's eyes strayed back to
the tethered animal.

It must have come from the very choicest of the riding camels of some
mighty official. Even the Pasha of Damascus would not have many such,
for the simple reason that there weren't many. More than ever, it
represented all the perfection dreamed of by some camel breeder--some
long-dead camel breeder, since the _dalul_ had never been produced in
one generation or during the life span of one man--who knew the desert
and yearned for the ideal camel.

Watching the _dalul_, Ali found his own mounting thirst easier to bear.
The animal had been without water longer than he and probably was
desperate for a drink--but refused to show it. Ali had learned while
still apprenticed to the rug vendor that camels may be as thirsty as any
other creatures. He turned his eyes back to the men.

One, in a rather desultory fashion, was mending a pack saddle. Two or
three others were at various small chores and the rest were sleeping in
the shade of their own tents. The hardness flowed back into Ali's eyes.

No followers of Mohammed, the Druse were devoted to heathen gods and
rituals. It was not for that, or their hypocrisy--a Druse tribesman
going among other peoples usually pretended to accept the religion of
his hosts--or their thievery, or the fact that they seldom attacked
anyone at all unless the odds were heavily in their favor, that Ali now
hated them. He'd have hated anyone at all who mistreated such a _dalul_
in such a fashion!

It occurred to Ali that he had neglected the prayer he should have
offered immediately after the sun rose and probably would have to omit
proper ceremonies at high noon, but it did not worry him. Allah, the
Compassionate, would surely understand that there are certain
inconveniences attached to the observance of prayers while in the full
sight of hostile Druse. Nor would He frown upon Ali for refusing to let
the _dalul_ out of his sight. When Ali left the camp, the _dalul_ was
leaving with him.

Passing the noon mark and starting its swing to the west, the full glare
of the sun no longer burned down on Ali's burnous, and the branches of
the Aleppo pine offered some shade. But since the day became hotter as
it grew longer, with the hottest hour of any being that one just
preceding sunset, there was little relief from the heat.

Ali lay as still as possible, partly because the slightest motion would
be sure to excite the curiosity of any Druse who happened to glance his
way and partly because moving must inevitably make him hotter. Helping
him to accept with grace what almost any other man of almost any other
nation would have found an unendurable wait were certain talents and
characteristics that had been his from birth.

Though he'd never even known his own father, Ali was of ancient blood.
Few of his ancestors, throughout all the generations, had ever had the
facilities, even though they might possess the best of reasons, for
going anywhere in a hurry. Ali came of people who knew how to wait, and
added to his inheritance was his experience with the caravans.
Regardless of when a shipment had been promised for delivery in Baghdad
or Aleppo, it lingered along the way, if the camels that carried it
developed sore feet en route.

In some measure, Ali suffered from heat, and, to a far greater extent,
he knew the tortures of thirst, but he accepted both with the inborn
fatalism of one who knows he must accept what he can neither change nor
prevent. Heat and thirst were passing factors. Unless he died first, in
which event he'd join Allah's celestial family, sooner or later he'd be
cool and he'd drink.

There'd been little action in the camp all day, but toward night the
Druse stirred. They did so surlily, grudgingly, after the fashion of men
who do not like what they've been doing in the recent past and have no
reason to suppose they'll be doing anything more interesting in the near
future. Rather than build cooking fires, they nibbled dates, meal and
honey cakes, and drank from goatskin flasks. There was no singing, not
even much shouting. The Druse, born raiders who could be happy only when
in the saddle and riding to the attack, must now be unhappy and snarl at
each other because their scouts, who were doubtless haunting every
caravan trail, had brought no news of quarry sighted.

Night came, and with it a coolness so refreshing that it inspired Ali to
thoughts of the heavenly bath that must be enjoyed by Allah's angels.
The cool night air fell and enfolded him like a gentle flood, but with
no hint of the earth's dross. After a blazing day, it was as welcome as
the sight of green palms ringing an oasis.

Ali reveled in the coolness, but not nearly as much as he did in the
fact that, with night, the Druse camp quieted. After waiting another
hour, he drew his dagger and went forward.

The sky was cloudless, but there was no moon and, at this early hour,
very few stars shone. Ali advanced with silent and unfaltering speed, in
spite of the fact that he could see almost nothing. A dozen times during
the day he had marked the exact route between himself and the young
_dalul_. He knew where he was going.

Ali's fingers tightened on the dagger's hilt. If Allah saw fit to reveal
him to the Druse, he hoped that the All Merciful would see equally fit
to defend himself manfully. When Ali was within a dozen yards of the
_dalul_, the peaceful night was shattered by an alarm.

"Ho! Wake and arm! There is an enemy among us!"

Because that was all he could do, Ali began to run. He had cast his lot,
and now all depended on the _dalul_. If he could free it, then mount and
ride, he and the camel would be safe at least until morning.

Ali was within an arm's length of the _dalul_ when it turned and spoke
to him. It was a guttural sound, and scarcely audible, but as different
from the usual camel's grunt as the scream of a hawk is from the chirp
of a robin. Even as he flung himself forward and started slashing at the
nearest rope, Ali heard and correctly interpreted.

The _dalul_ had just said that it would kill him if it could!



2. Fugitive


The picketed camels, that never saw any reason to give way to
excitement just because humans did, shuffled their feet, grunted and
went on munching fodder. His warning voiced, the young _dalul_ remained
silent. He would waste no more breath on threats or further warnings;
just let any man who came near enough look to his own safety! His very
silence had all the lethal promise of a poised, unsheathed dagger!

Ali said, "I hear, oh lord of all _dalul_, and I understand. But behold,
I free you!"

He spoke calmly, and there was no fear to be detected by the young
camel because there was none in Ali. This young camel driver, who had
seen the shadow of death, or heard death whisper, as frequently as did
all those who ventured forth on the lonely caravan routes, now assured
himself that he was not necessarily looking upon a forbidding being in
this tortured camel. But, be that as it may, he must take the chance.
The incurably ill, the weary old, the oppressed, the mistreated, knew no
friend more kind than Ali.

However, though he talked slowly and softly, he moved swiftly as a
leaping panther while he cut the first rope and went at once to the
second. The Druse camp was silent, and had been since that first shouted
alarm, but it was alert and the Druse were no fools. Certainly they
would know better than to come yelling and leaping, brandishing weapons
and mouthing threats.

Far more probable, Ali wouldn't even know an enemy was within striking
distance until he saw--or felt--the pointed dagger that was seeking his
heart or heard the swish of a descending sword. Then, if Allah so
decreed, one less camel driver would return to the caravan routes.

As he cut the remaining ropes, Ali continued to speak soothingly to the
young _dalul_. Far from nervous, or even slightly excited, the young
rescuer was almost serenely calm. Death would certainly be his portion
if the Druse had their way, and, of course, there was also a good
chance that he would die if he liberated the young _dalul_. But some
deaths are much sweeter than others.

It would be far easier, and more honorable, to die under the trampling
feet of a good Moslem _dalul_ than under the sword or dagger of a
heathen Druse. Besides, even though the _dalul_ first killed Ali, there
remained the satisfactory probability that he would then turn upon and
kill one or more of the villains.

Ali cut the final rope, the one about the _dalul's_ neck, and waited
calmly. He lowered the hand holding the dagger. He'd have sheathed the
weapon, except that one or more of the Druse might be upon him at any
moment and a dagger would be a convenient article to have in hand. But
Ali had no intention of fighting the _dalul_, or even of resisting
should it attack him.

He said calmly, "You are free, brother."

Not accustomed to freedom after standing so long bound by cramping
ropes, the _dalul_ shook his head and stamped his forefoot. Then he gave
two prodigious sidewise leaps toward the picketed baggage camels and
roared.

The baggage camels crowded very close together, as though for the
comfort each found in the others, when the _dalul_ leaped. His roar
robbed them of common sense, so that they began a wild plunging. Even
better than Ali, the baggage camels knew the _dalul's_ quality. They'd
have broken their tethers and stampeded had not some of the Druse taken
note of the situation and rushed in to quiet the terrified beasts.

For the first time, Ali had a few fleeting moments to wonder why he
still lived. It had seemed inevitable that, if the Druse did not kill
him, the _dalul_ most certainly would. Perhaps, during the tortured
hours it had stood as captive, it had marked its enemies and knew Ali
was not among them. More probable, Ali's gift, his ability to
understand and be understood by all camels, had proved itself once
again.

Ali shrugged. He didn't know, and probably never would know, just why
the _dalul_ had not killed him the instant it was free. But Allah knew,
and it was not for Ali to question or even wonder about His judgments.

Ali's business was camels. He decided that it was high time he took his
business in hand and called the _dalul_.

It responded, but before coming all the way to Ali, it stopped twice to
bestow a long, lingering and disappointed look upon the camp of the
Druse. Raging, but bound and helpless, the _dalul_ had promised his
captors a battle as soon as he was free. The challenge still stood, and,
even though the Druse were not accepting, the situation rebounded to
Ali's benefit. While the _dalul_ roamed the camp, the enemy dared not
move freely, and Ali's peril was correspondingly less.

After his second inspection of the enemy camp, the _dalul_ did not stop
again or even look about him but continued straight to Ali. He halted a
few steps away and grunted a little camel song. Then he extended his
long neck and lightly laid his head on his rescuer's shoulder. Ali
embraced the great head with both arms and pressed his cheek close to
the _dalul's_ neck.

"Mighty one!" he crooned. "Peerless one! Where is a name worthy of such
as you?"

The Druse were continuing the hunt, and when and if they found Ali,
they'd be overjoyed to kill him as dead as possible in the shortest
necessary time. But creeping into an armed Druse camp, his only weapons
a dagger and courage, was one matter. Waiting beside the young _dalul_,
whom the Druse had every reason to fear, was quite another. Again Ali
addressed the young stallion.

"Sun of cameldom! Jewel of the caravan routes! By what title may you be
called so that, wherever you may venture, all men shall know your deeds
when you are called by name?"

The young _dalul_--and if he had the faintest interest in the name Ali
or anyone else might bestow, there was no indication of that--took his
head from Ali's shoulder to sniff his hand. Obviously, it was high time
for Ali to seek divine assistance in determining a name for the _dalul_,
and it would not come amiss to indicate that haste was in order. Even
Druse tribesmen, knowing Ali was in camp but failing to find him, must
sooner or later deduce that he was with the _dalul_.

Ali faced Mecca. He began his supplication with the customary "_Allahu
akbar_--God is most great." He ended it at precisely the same place,
more than a little overwhelmed by the speed with which Allah may respond
to even the least of His worshipers. Ali had scarcely started when he
knew the name he sought. He whirled to the _dalul_.

"From this moment you shall be known as Ben Akbar!" he declared
happily. "Ben Akbar!"

Transcending mere perfection, the name was a stroke of genius. Ben
Akbar, the unequaled, the peerless, the greatest _dalul_ of any. No
matter how hard they racked their own brains, regardless of the masters
of rhetoric they might consult, no camel rider anywhere would ever hit
upon a name that described his favorite in terms more superlative.

Now that Ben Akbar bore the only name that truly conformed to his
dignity and power, Ali turned his thoughts to affairs of the moment.

His entry into the Druse camp, audacious though it had been, never would
have created other than momentary alarm. Freeing Ben Akbar, a confirmed
killer camel in the mind of every Druse, gave a wholly different meaning
to the entire affair. The least of the raiders would happily prowl the
camp in search of Ali. But while darkness held sway, not even the best
of them cared to chance an encounter with Ben Akbar.

In addition, or so the Druse would think, killer camels made no
distinction among Moslems, Christians, Jews, or men of any other faith.
They killed whomsoever they were able to catch. Since Ali had been near
enough to cut the _dalul's_ bindings, it followed that the killer camel
had been able to catch him.

Regardless of anything the Druse thought at the moment, Ali knew that
they would not continue to remain deceived after sunrise. The signs,
the tracks, would be there for them to read, and few desert dwellers
read signs more skillfully. Despite anything their minds told them,
their eyes would leave no doubt that Ali and the _dalul_ had gone away
together.

For a brief interval, Ali speculated concerning the inscrutable ways of
Allah, who had bestowed upon the Druse tribesmen a maximum of ferocity
and a minimum of common sense. Obviously, it was his duty to take
certain most urgent action if he would live to greet another sunset.

At night, the Druse would have no stomach for attacking, or even coming
near, Ben Akbar. As soon as a new day brought light enough so they could
see, they'd never hesitate. If Ali happened to be near Ben Akbar, where
he had every intention of being, he'd be found.

Ali said softly, "We go, brother." With Ben Akbar pacing contentedly at
his shoulder, he faded into the darkness.

Although Ali wanted to go south, where he thought he'd have the best
chance of meeting the great _Hadj_, and the gulley in which the Druse
were camped ran almost directly north-south, he did not go down that
gulley. There was at least one enemy outpost stationed there--and
possibly more.

Ali climbed the ridge, retracing almost exactly the path he'd followed
when he came to the rescue of Ben Akbar. Rather than stop when he
gained the summit, he went on down into the next gulley and climbed the
following ridge. On the summit of that, he finally halted. Ben Akbar,
who sported neither tether rope nor rein but who was amiably willing to
walk behind Ali where the path was narrow and beside him where space
permitted, came up from behind and thrust his long neck over his
friend's shoulder. Ali reached up to caress the mighty head.

The baggage animals he'd seen in the Druse camp were just that,
ponderous beasts, bred to carry six hundred or more pounds a distance of
twenty-five miles at a stretch and to bear this enormous burden day
after day. Under ordinary circumstances, they'd be no match for the
_dalul_, but Ben Akbar was more than just tired and hungry. An hour of
the torment he'd endured was enough to sap more strength than an entire
day on the trail. His hump, that unfailing barometer of a camel's
condition, was half the size it should have been. There was no way of
telling when he'd had his last drink of water.

This last, Ali told himself, was of the utmost importance. Every urchin
on every caravan route knows that camels store water in their own
bodies, and that it is entirely possible for some seasoned veterans of
the caravan trails to plod on, though at an increasingly slower pace,
for three, four, or even five days without any water save that which
they absorb from their fodder. But those are the exceptions. As noted,
given an opportunity, camels will drink as much and as frequently as any
creature of similar size, and a thirsty camel is handicapped.

So, although Ali might have laughed in their faces had Ben Akbar been
rested and well-nourished, the Druse, who would most certainly be on
their trail the instant it was light enough to see, had more than a good
chance of overtaking them before nightfall. But before Ali could concern
himself with the Druse, there was something he must do.

"Kneel!" he commanded.

Ben Akbar knelt, settling himself with surprising grace. Ali mounted.
Though there was no riding saddle, he seated himself where it should
have been and placed his feet properly, one on either side of the base
of Ben Akbar's neck. There was no rein either, but the finest of the
_dalul_ were carefully schooled to obey the spoken word without regard
to rein. Ali gave the command to rise, then bade Ben Akbar go.

Ben Akbar's gait was as gentle as the evening wind that ruffles the
new-sprouted fronds of young date palms. Ali sent him to the right, then
the left, relying on spoken commands alone and getting a response so
perfect that there'd have been no need of a rein, even if the _dalul_
wore one. Ali no longer had reason to wonder if Ben Akbar was the
property of a rich man. None except the wealthy could afford the fees
demanded by riding masters who knew the secret of teaching a camel to
obey spoken orders.

Though he knew he should not, Ali ordered Ben Akbar to run. The camel
obeyed instantly, yet so imperceptible was the change in pace, and so
rhythmically smooth was his run, that he had attained almost full speed
before his rider realized that the change had been made.

Ali sat unmoving, letting the wind fan his cheeks and reveling in this
ride as he had delighted in nothing else he could remember. The gait of
riding camels varies as much as that of riding horses, but Ben Akbar
stood alone. Rather than landing with spine-jarring thuds as he raced
on, his feet seemed not even to touch the earth.

Ali had never ridden a smoother-gaited camel...but suddenly it occurred
to him that the ride had better end. Bidding his mount halt, Ali slid to
the ground and went around to where he could pet Ben Akbar's nose.

"You are swift as the wind itself, and the back of the downiest bird is
a bed of stones and thorns compared with the back of Ben Akbar," he
stated. "But it is not now that you should run."

Ben Akbar sniffed Ali gravely and blew through his nostrils. Ali
responded, as though he were answering a question.

"The Druse," he explained, "tonight they are helpless, for even if they
would follow, they cannot see our path in the darkness. But rest assured
that they shall be upon our trail with the first light of morning and
they know well how to get the most speed from their baggage beasts. If
you were rested and nourished, I would laugh at a dozen--nay!--a
thousand such! But you are weary and ill-cared-for, so tonight we must
spare your strength. Tomorrow, you may have to run away from the Druse!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day was two hours old, and Ali and Ben Akbar were still walking
south, when Ali glanced about and saw the mounted Druse sweep over a
hillock.

At the same instant, they saw him and raced full speed to the kill.

Hearing, scenting or sensing pursuit, Ben Akbar swung all the way
around. He was very quiet, an indication that he would look to and obey
Ali. But there was about him a complete lack of nervousness, plus a
certain quality in the way he faced enemies, rather than turned from
them, that betrayed a war camel. He would flee from the Druse, if that
were Ali's wish, but he would run just as eagerly and just as swiftly
toward them, should Ali decide to attack.

Nervous, but controlling himself, Ali counted the Druse as they raced
down the hill. There were twenty-three, three more than had been in camp
last night, therefore some must have arrived after he left. They were
not the organized unit they would have been if they expected formidable
resistance. Since there was only one man to kill, and every Druse burned
to kill him, they came in wild disorder, with those on the swiftest
camels leading.

Though the charge was only seconds old, three of the Druse had already
drawn ahead of the rest. A glance told Ali that all three were mounted
on _dalul_. Since there had been no riding camels in the Druse camp,
obviously these were the three newcomers who had arrived during the
night. The rest were all mounted on baggage camels.

Because he had had a whole night's start, and the pursuing Druse should
have been hampered by the necessity for working out his trail, Ali had
not expected them before midday. Something had gone amiss. Possibly,
during the night, Ali and Ben Akbar had passed another outpost that they
had not seen, but that had managed both to shadow them and to send word
back to the camp. Perhaps the outpost had even consisted of the three
riders of _dalul_.

Ali concentrated on the three _dalul_. All were good beasts, but none
were outstanding, and, in an even contest, none could have come near to
matching Ben Akbar's speed. No, however--

Ali turned to Ben Akbar and said gently, "Kneel."

Ben Akbar obeyed. Ali mounted and gave the command to rise, then to
run. He unsheathed the dagger and held it in his hand. The Druse were
armed with guns, which they knew how to use, but there were good reasons
why they would hesitate to shoot one lone man. In the first place,
powder and shot were expensive and to be used only when nothing else
sufficed. In the second, when the odds were twenty-three to one, the
Druse who shot when he might have killed his enemy with sword or dagger
must lose face as a warrior.

The dagger in his hand was Ali's only concession to the possibility that
he might be overtaken. When and if he was, might Allah frown if at least
one of the Druse did not join his ancestors before Ali did likewise.

Other than that, the race was not unpleasant. Weary though he was, the
power and strength that Ali had seen in Ben Akbar when the young _dalul_
stood captive in the Druse camp were manifest now. Ben Akbar flowed
along, seeming to do so almost without effort, and Ali thought with
wonder of the magnificent creature this _dalul_ would be when properly
fed and rested. Only when Ben Akbar stumbled where he should have run on
was his rider recalled to the grim realities of the situation.

He did not have to look behind him because he knew what lay there.
Having been detected when they appeared over the crest of the far
hillock, the Druse must still descend it, cross the gulley and climb the
opposite hill before they could be where Ali had been when they saw him.
Though they must know that Ben Akbar was not in condition to run his
best, they certainly knew the quality of such a camel. Looking from the
crest of the hill upon which Ali had been sighted and seeing nothing,
they could by no means be certain that camel and rider had not already
gone out of sight on the hill beyond. A terrified fugitive would
logically run in a straight line.

A third of the way down the hill, Ali gave Ben Akbar the command to turn
left. He was about three hundred yards from the floor of the gulley and
the same distance from its head, where a thick copse of mingled Aleppo
pine and scrub brush offered more than enough cover to hide a whole
caravan. Reaching the thicket, Ali halted Ben Akbar and dismounted. Then
he turned and waited for the Druse to appear.

Led by the three riders of _dalul_, they broke over the crest at the
exact spot where Ali had been sighted. They did exactly as he had hoped
they would and raced straight on. A smile of satisfaction flitted across
Ali's lips as the advance riders swept past that place where he had
turned Ben Akbar.

Then something went amiss.

Though the three _dalul_ had seemed equally matched, one now led the
other two by some ten yards. Reaching the gulley's floor, the leading
rider halted his mount, swung him abruptly and shouted, "He has gone
another way!"

As the truth forced itself on Ali, his first thought was that the rider
of the leading _dalul_ must be a very giant among the Druse.

Noted trackers, most Druse would have some trouble trailing a single
camel on a sun-baked desert. But, incredible though it seemed, the
leading pursuer had been tracking Ali while riding at full speed. He had
raced on because he had thought exactly what Ali hoped he would--that
Ali and Ben Akbar were already out of sight behind the next hill. But he
had stopped when he no longer saw tracks.

While the two remaining riders of _dalul_ swung unquestioningly in
behind him, and the Druse mounted on baggage camels halted wherever they
happened to be, the tracker trotted his _dalul_ back up the hill. His
eyes were fixed on the ground as he sought to pick up the trail he had
lost.

With Ben Akbar behind him, Ali stole through the thicket toward the far
end. He clutched the dagger tightly. He would mount and ride when he was
clear of the thicket; nobody could ride a camel through such a place.
But it was questionable as to how long he'd ride with such a tracker on
his trail.

Ali was almost out of the thicket when a man who swung a wicked-looking
scimitar seemed to rise from the earth and bar his path. Ali gazed upon
the countenance of an old acquaintance.

The man was a Druse that Ali knew as The Jackal!



3. Ambush


Ali took a single backward step that brought him nearer Ben Akbar. The
move could have been interpreted as a wholly natural desire to find such
comfort as he might in his camel, the one friend he had or was likely to
have. But Ali's purpose was more practical.

Unless every imaginable advantage was on his side, the wielder of a
dagger hadn't the faintest chance of overcoming anyone armed with a
scimitar, but Ali intended to concede no point not already and
unavoidably given by the difference in weapons. When The Jackal swung,
which he would do when he considered the moment right, he would not
miss. But if Ali was agile enough at ducking, and ducked in the right
direction, it did not necessarily follow that he must be killed
outright.

For a split second immediately following his blow, The Jackal would be
off guard. Before he recovered, always supposing he was still able to
move, Ali might go forward with his dagger and work some execution, or
at least inflict some damage, of his own. All else failing, there was
reason to hope that Ben Akbar would trample his foe after he went down.
Ali studied The Jackal.

Of medium height and probably middle-aged, he was veiled in a certain
mystic aura that defied penetration and prevented even a reasonably
accurate guess as to how many years he had been on earth. He blended in
a curious manner with the harsh and wild desert background, as though he
had been a part of it from the beginning. His hair was concealed beneath
a hood, but not even a thick beard succeeded in hiding a cruel mouth.
His nose was thin and aquiline, with nostrils that seemed forever to be
questing. His eyes were unreadable, but they possessed certain depths
that combined with a broad sweep of forehead and a vast arrogance of
manner to mark The Jackal as a man apart.

Ali remembered the first time he had run across him, or rather, evidence
of his work.

It was Ali's third year with the caravans, and they were going from
Mersin to Erzerum, with seven hundred camels and an assorted load, when
they overtook all that remained of the caravan preceding them. It had
been the entourage of some wealthy Amir, traveling north with his family
and a powerful guard of soldiers. When Ali arrived, The Jackal had been
there and gone, but he had left his trademark.

All human males, from babes in the arms of his wives to the gray-bearded
Amir himself, lay where they had fallen. The older women and the girl
children were massacred, too. Only the young girls had been carried away
with the remainder of the legitimate booty.

Savagely cruel though it was, the raid was equally audacious. Of the
many bandit leaders infesting the caravan routes, few had the
imagination to plan a successful attack on a heavily-guarded Amir's
caravan or the courage to proceed, once such an attack was planned.

Thereafter, at sporadic intervals, Ali found additional evidence that
The Jackal was still at work, and there could be no mistake about his
identity. His raids were noted for cruelty and for the fact that he
never bothered with any except wealthy caravans. Three years later, Ali
met The Jackal.

The caravan for which Ali was handling camels came to an oasis one day
out of Ankara and found another caravan already encamped. However,
there was ample room for both and no apparent reason for either to
challenge the other. Ali took care of the camels for which he was
responsible, then set about to do something he would have done before
had an opportunity offered itself.

He had been in Antioch, temporarily idle, when he happened across a
youngster mishandling some half-broken baggage camels. He had stepped in
to bring the situation under control. On succeeding, he discovered that
the young man had disappeared while he was occupied, and an older person
was quietly watching him instead. The older man, whom Ali thought was
the caravan master, invited him to come along as a camel driver.

Ali had accepted and discovered, too late, that the imperious youngster
who'd been mishandling baggage camels was the real caravan master, which
position he held solely by virtue of the fact that his father was Pasha
of Damascus. He didn't like Ali and he missed no opportunity to
demonstrate his disapproval. Ali had stayed with the caravan until
reaching this oasis for the simple reason that there was no other
choice. If he had left sooner, he would have been one lone man in a land
noted for the brief span of life enjoyed by solitary travelers. But he
felt that he could make it from here to Ankara without difficulty and
he'd had more than his fill of the Pasha's son. He went to the caravan
master's tent to demand his pay.

He found the youngster engaged in amiable conversation with the man who
now stood before him, The Jackal, who said he was master of the other
caravan. Ali also found that, in the eyes of the Pasha's son, his own
state was less than exalted. He was ordered out of the tent.

When Ali refused to leave without first receiving his pay, the youngster
unsheathed a dagger and advanced with the obvious intention of having
him carried out feet first. Unluckily for the Pasha's son, Ali also had
a dagger and his skill with the same exceeded by a comfortable margin
any adroitness the other might claim. Ali got his due wages, which he
took from a moneybag, and the Pasha's son had fainted from a series of
dagger wounds in his right arm.

Ali was on the point of leaving when The Jackal, who had offered not the
faintest interference, rose, complimented him on a superb bit of dagger
work and thanked him for making it easier to sack the caravan. He intended
to do this tomorrow, somewhere between the oasis and Ankara, but the
Pasha's son had presented an awkward problem. The Jackal, who introduced
himself as such, had no fear of soldiers in reasonable numbers but he was
not prepared to cope with the armies that must inevitably take the field
against whoever molested a son of the Pasha--this despite the fact that
the Pasha had no fewer than twenty-nine known sons. The Jackal had been
trying to persuade the young man to leave and go into Ankara when Ali's
dagger had settled the matter in a most satisfactory fashion.

The Jackal was not ungrateful, and, to prove his gratitude, he would
arrange for Ali to ride into Ankara with a small group of his own men,
who would leave shortly. After they had gone, The Jackal would see to it
that a sufficient number of his own trusty brigands, under such oaths as
might be appropriate, would swear that they had seen the Pasha's son
struck down by an unknown assailant.

Ali had ridden and so had escaped the next morning's massacre, which
several travelers had reported as taking place after the Pasha's son had
been "_killed by an assassin_." Thereafter, he had waited for lightning
to strike although he had only injured his attacker in self defense, but
so far, it hadn't which meant that The Jackal had kept his lips sealed.
Now it no longer mattered. The Jackal would cut his own mother down if
by so doing he served his own ends.

Suddenly, "Why hesitate, Abdullah?" somebody growled.

Another man came from the brush to stand beside The Jackal. Then there
was another...and more...until nineteen men were grouped about The
Jackal and facing Ali. The Jackal stepped aside. Another took his place.

Ali glanced briefly at The Jackal. He looked at the others, all good
Moslems and all wearing on their turbans the distinctive emblem that
marked them as members of the Pasha's crack personal soldiery. The
present "Abdullah," the former Jackal, wore the same emblem but, until
now, it had escaped Ali's notice because, not in his wildest flight of
imagination had he dreamed he'd ever see it on a Druse.

The soldier who'd spoken and for whom The Jackal had stepped aside,
evidently the commander of this patrol, spoke again and directed his
words to Ali, "Where found you the _dalul_, dog?"

Ali answered, "I stole him from some Druse."

The soldier drew his dagger and spoke again, "Die you will, but choose
whether you die swiftly or slowly. Why are you found in possession of
the finest _dalul_ among two thousand such owned by the Pasha of
Damascus?"

"I stole him--" Ali began.

At that moment, out in the thicket, one of the camels being led by the
dismounted Druse as they made their way among the trees and brush, chose
to grunt. The eyes of every man except the officer turned toward the
sound.

Ali said, "The Druse from whom I stole the _dalul_ are in close pursuit.
They are twenty-three in all."

Except for the officer, who thoughtfully kept the point of his dagger
pricking Ali's ribs, the Moslems scattered and, a few seconds later, it
was as though they had never been.

The officer addressed Ali. "Bid the _dalul_ lie down."

Ali gave the order and Ben Akbar obeyed. Unconcerned as though there
were no Druse within forty miles, but not forgetting to prick Ali's ribs
with his dagger, the officer scorned even to glance in the direction
from which the Druse approached. Ali wondered. Some Moslems yearned so
ardently for the life to come that they set not the least value on the
one they already had, but the officer seemed more practical-minded.

"The Druse number a score and three," Ali ventured finally. "They come
from the direction where the camel grunted and they cannot fail to see
you should you neglect to hide."

"I did not ask your opinion," the officer growled. "Be silent!"

Since the order was emphasized with a sudden jab of the dagger, Ali
remained silent. He composed himself. This, as well as everything else,
was now in the hands of Allah and He alone would determine the outcome.
But it never harmed anything to ponder.

The rest of the Moslems and The Jackal had disappeared as suddenly and
completely as morning dew when the sun turns hot. Though they could not
be very far away, neither was the end of the thicket. Once out of the
brush, Ali could mount Ben Akbar and ride. If the pursuit were resumed,
and, regardless of who won the forthcoming battle, it would be, it must
still be delayed while the fight was in progress. If Allah would only
see fit to make the officer take the point of his dagger out of Ali's
ribs and go wherever his men had gone, it would be worth Ali's while to
try to break away.

But the officer entertained no ideas about going anywhere or of using
his dagger for any purpose except to remind Ali how swiftly a painful
situation could become fatal. Ali looked at Ben Akbar, still lying where
he had been ordered to lie, but not liking it. Though reclining, he was
anything but relaxed. His head was up, his eyes missed nothing, his
nostrils quested, and tense muscles indicated both a readiness and an
ability to spring instantly to his feet.

Ali decided that Ben Akbar did not like these strange Moslems any better
than he had the Druse who captured him, and that he tolerated them at
all only because Ali commanded him to do so. It occurred to Ali that
none of the Moslems had been eager to venture too near Ben Akbar, and,
suddenly, he knew something he hadn't known before.

Certainly no killer, Ben Akbar was most discriminating when it came to a
choice of human companions. Incapable as the Druse of handling him
properly, the Moslems were wisely leaving him alone. The fierce little
officer never would have told Ali to make Ben Akbar lie down if he
thought the _dalul_ would obey him instead.

That being so, and if Allah smiled and the Moslems won the forthcoming
fight, Ali felt that he had some hope of staying alive, at least until
the soldiers returned to whatever headquarters camp they had left to go
out on patrol. It would reflect little credit on any emissary of the
Pasha of Damascus to bring a favorite _dalul_ before the eyes of his
master as a raging brute at the end of ropes. If the Moslems could not
take him in except by force, but Ali could, there were reasons to
suppose that Ali would.

When they appeared on foot, the Druse were led by a sinewy man who
advanced at a trot, and who, in turn, led a _dalul_. Evidently the same
talented tracker who'd followed Ali's trail while riding full speed, the
man strained like a leashed gazelle hound that sights its quarry. The
remaining Druse grouped behind him.

Ali glanced at the officer.

That fierce Moslem, who certainly knew the Druse were coming,
contemptuously refused even to look around until the leader was within
thirty yards of him. Then, maintaining enough pressure on the dagger to
remind Ali that he was not forgotten, he swung and shouted insults.

"Dogs!" he spat. "Eaters of pork! Spawn of flies that infest camel dung!
I have your prisoner and your _dalul_! Come take them if you're men!"

The leading Druse dropped the reins of his _dalul_, shouted fiercely,
drew his sword and rushed. His followers did likewise, and, even though
some were delayed by frightened camels that plunged to one side or the
other, Ali counted nine sword-waving Druse hard on the heels of their
leader and all too close for comfort. He stole another glance at the
officer.

Neither taking the dagger from Ali's ribs nor making any move to draw
his sword, he seemed to regard the attacking Druse as he might some
particularly repulsive vermin that might soil his shoes if he stepped on
them. Then it happened.

From both sides of the trail, where they had concealed themselves as
soon as they knew the Druse were coming, Moslem swordsmen rose. So
complete was the surprise and so overwhelming the shock, half the Druse
were down before the rest even thought of rallying. Ali acknowledged his
approval--and even some admiration--for an officer who could plan so
well.

The ambushed Moslems must have seen Ali and Ben Akbar when they were at
least as far off as the Druse had been when they were sighted. They had
marked the exact route, which made it unnecessary to do any second-guessing
about the Druse. If they were following Ali, they were tracking him. So
an ambush on either side of the track, an officer to act as bait and
convince the Druse that there was only one man and--

The last Druse went down. The Moslems ranged out to catch the scattered
camels and bring in any loot that was worth bringing. Some wounded, but
all on their feet, they arranged themselves and their booty before the
officer.

"You fought like old women," he sneered. "It is well that there were no
real warriors to oppose you. But now that we have the _dalul_ we set out
to find, we may return."

"The prisoner?" someone called.

"He stays." The officer pushed his dagger a quarter inch into Ali's
ribs.

Because it was an ideal time to think of something else, Ali speculated
about The Jackal. Whatever else he might be, The Jackal was a brave man.
What would happen, if he were detected, to a Druse who not only joined
the _Hadj_ but the Pasha's personal soldiers too, and who was obviously
representing himself as a Moslem, Ali couldn't even imagine.

He did know that one false step would be one too many for the deceiver.
If The Jackal took that step, he would live a very long while in agony
before voicing his final shriek. Of course, it was a true Moslem's duty
to tell what he knew, but The Jackal had only to speak and Ali would
face the torturers with him. Whatever purpose had brought The Jackal
here, he must be playing for tremendous stakes.

Ali was considerably relieved, but not greatly astonished, when the
officer withdrew his dagger and sheathed it. He addressed Ali as he
might have spoken to a stray cur.

"On second thought, we will take you to Al Misri, The Egyptian, and let
him kill you. Bring the _dalul_, dog, and, for your own sake, see that
it does not stray."



4. The Hadj


As soon as possible, which was as soon as their own riding camels
could be brought from wherever they had been hidden, the Moslem soldiers
mounted and prepared to set out. On the point of mounting Ben Akbar, Ali
was knocked to the ground by the flat of the fierce officer's sword and
informed in terms that left no room for doubt that he was Ben Akbar's
attendant. Nobody except the Pasha of Damascus was to be his rider.

Despite clear grounds for argument, Ali smothered his anger and
comforted himself with logic. There are times to fight, but on this
specific occasion logic indicated clearly that one man armed with a
dagger can hope for nothing except a very certain demise by defying
twenty men who are armed with everything. Ali walked beside the _dalul_,
a rather simple process, since the speed of all must necessarily be
regulated by the pace of the slow baggage camels, and Ben Akbar refused
to leave his friend's side, anyhow.

With nightfall, they made camp at a water hole too small to be dignified
by the title of oasis. After he had finished eating, the officer
contemptuously tossed Ali the remains of his meal and a silken cord. He
said nothing, apparently he had no desire to degrade himself by speaking
unnecessarily to anyone who was so clearly and so greatly his inferior,
but the implication was obvious. Ben Akbar must not stray.

Knowing the cord was unnecessary, Ali chose the diplomatic course. He
tied one end of the cord to his wrist and the other around the young
_dalul's_ neck. While Ben Akbar grazed, Ali sat quietly and devoted a
few fleeting thoughts to the various possibilities of a social position
that is approximately on a level with the fleas that torment camels--and
sometimes riders of camels.

While it was true that the soldiers, grouped about their evening fire,
ignored him as completely as though he didn't even exist, Ali saw no
good reason why he should ignore them in a similar fashion. He breathed
a silent thanks to Allah for blessing him with sharp ears. What those
ears heard as Ali sat pretending to doze, but alert as a desert fox,
might have a powerful influence on his plans for the future.

There were diverse possibilities. One that had already been considered
most thoroughly and at great length was rooted in the pleasing thought
that Ben Akbar was no longer a tired, hungry and thirsty _dalul_. Given
as much as a five-second start, there wasn't another camel on the desert
that could even hope to catch him.

If this was to be Ali's choice, tonight was the time for action. But
before committing himself to anything, he wanted to consider everything.

The patrol, as Ali had learned from the conversation at the campfire,
was one of several dispatched from the great _Hadj_ six days ago. Their
only purpose was to find Ben Akbar; their orders were not to return
without him.

Ben Akbar had been lost, so Ali learned, through the laxity of a
seven-times-cursed camel driver from Smyrna. His only duty, a task to
which he'd been assigned because he was one of the very few men Ben
Akbar would obey, was to watch over the Pasha's most-prized _dalul_.
Somehow or other--a soldier voiced the opinion that he'd been in
collusion with the very Druse from whom Ali had taken him--he'd managed
to lose his charge. All the soldiers gave fervent thanks to Allah
because their mission was successfully completed. Hunting lost camels
was not their idea of interesting diversion.

Ali digested the food for thought thus provided and decided, to his own
satisfaction, that his previous deduction had been entirely correct. He
had not been spared because the Moslem soldiers were compassionate, but
because not one among them knew how to handle Ben Akbar without resorting
to force. Furthermore, if Ben Akbar were not greatly esteemed, several
patrols of soldiers who might at any time be needed for other duties
never would have been charged with the exclusive task of recovering him.

While Ben Akbar moved so carefully that the silken cord was never even
taut, Ali lay back to gaze at the sky and consider the most profitable
use of the information at his disposal.

If he rode into the desert on Ben Akbar, a possibility that retained
much appeal, he need have no fear of successful pursuit. However, the
Pasha's soldiers would certainly continue their search. As long as Ben
Akbar was with him--and Ali had already decided that that would be as
long as he lived--he must inevitably be a marked man. Unless he rode
into a country ruled by some sultan or Pasha who was hostile to the
Pasha of Damascus--in which event there was a fine chance of having his
throat cut by someone who wanted to steal Ben Akbar--he would lead a
harassed and harried life.

On the other hand, if he stayed with the soldiers and went into camp, he'd
be doing exactly what he'd set out to do in the first place--he'd join the
great _Hadj_. As there seemed to be few camel drivers who knew how to
handle Ben Akbar, there was more than a good chance that Ali would make
the pilgrimage as his attendant. Since he'd already determined that Ben
Akbar would be a part of his future, regardless of what that was or where
it led him, this prospect was entrancing. In addition, once his holy
pilgrimage was properly completed, he would be entitled to call himself
Hadji Ali and to take advantage of the expanded horizon derived therefrom.

Only one small cloud of doubt prevented Ali from choosing this latter
course without further hesitation or thought. The Moslem officer's voice
had been laden with more than casual respect when he referred to Al Misri,
or The Egyptian. The casual pronouncement that The Egyptian was to have
the pleasure of executing Ali might be, and probably was, just another
attempt to intimidate him. But this was the Syrian _Hadj_. As such, it
differed distinctly from the Moslem pilgrimage that originated in and
departed from Cairo, Egypt. Every Syrian knew that Egyptians are inferior.
The very fact that a responsible and high-ranking officer of the Syrian
_Hadj_ possessed the sheer brazen effrontery to call himself The Egyptian,
plus the strength and authority to command respect for such a title, was
more than enough to mark him as a man apart. Doubtless he was a man of
firm convictions that were translated into action without loss of time. If
he had, or if he should develop, a firm conviction that Ali dead was more
pleasing than Ali alive--

Ali finally decided to go in with the soldiers and trust Allah. His
decision made, he lay down, arranged his burnous to suit him and went
peacefully to sleep.

In the thin, cold light of very early morning, he came awake and, as
usual, lay quietly before moving. The silken cord that was tied to his
wrist and Ben Akbar's neck was both slack and motionless; the _dalul_
must be resting. The dagger and pilgrim's robe were safe. Reassured
concerning the state of his personal world and possessions of the
moment, Ali sat up and looked toward Ben Akbar.

No more than a dozen feet away, the young _dalul_ was standing quietly
where he had finished grazing. An ecstatic glow lighted Ali's eyes. Ben
Akbar's recuperative powers must be as marvelous as his speed and
endurance. He scarcely seemed to be the same spent and reeling beast
that Ali had led into ambush yesterday morning. After only one night's
rest and grazing, even his hump was noticeably bigger.

Ali joined the other Moslems at morning prayer, stood humbly aside as
they saddled and mounted and started the baggage camels moving and fell
in behind with Ben Akbar. Nobody paid the least attention to him; if he
planned to escape, he would not be fool enough to make the attempt by
day.

Four hours later, the travelers looked from a hillock upon the great
_Hadj_.

A sea of tents, like rippling waves, overflowed and seemed about to
overwhelm a broad valley. There were no palms or any other indication of
water. Obviously, this was a dry camp--one of many on the long, dangerous
route--and dry camps were the primary reason why so many baggage camels
were needed. But even with thousands of baggage camels burdened with food
and water, often there was not enough. Falling in that order to thirst,
bandits, disease or hunger--or succumbing to the desert itself--a full
third of the pilgrims with any _Hadj_ might die before reaching the Holy
City.

Save for a few tethered camels and some horses, there were no animals in
sight. Ali knew that the majority had been given over to herders and
were in various pastures. The picketed camels and horses were for the
convenience of those who might find it necessary to ride.

For the most part, the camp would rest all day. Only when late afternoon
shadows tempered the glaring sun would it come awake. Then, guided by
blazing torches on either flank, at the mile-or mile-and-a-half-an-hour
which was the swiftest pace so many baggage animals could maintain, it
would march toward Mecca all night long.

Impressive as the camp appeared, Ali knew also that it was just a small
part--though one of the wealthier parts or there would not have been so
many tents--of the great _Hadj_. There was not a single valley in the
entire desert spacious enough to accommodate the five thousand humans,
and the more than twenty thousand beasts, whose destination was the Holy
City of Mecca.

After a brief halt, the officer led his men down into the camp. There
were few humans stirring, and those who were regarded the returning
patrol with complete indifference.

In the very center of the camp, before a huge and luxurious tent that,
together with its furnishings, must require a whole herd of baggage
camels just to transport it, the officer dismounted, handed the reins of
his riding camel to a soldier and entered the tent. The remainder of the
patrol formed an armed circle around Ali and Ben Akbar.

Wishing he could feel as unconcerned as he hoped he appeared, Ali sought
to ease the tension by observing and speculating. This tent, he
presently decided, was not headquarters for the Pasha himself. Though
the Pasha's tent couldn't possibly be much more luxurious, it would be
surrounded by the camps of other dignitaries, and the whole would be so
well-guarded by soldiers that nobody could have come even near. Ali
guessed that this was the headquarters of Al Misri, and that they were
in a camp of officers and lesser notables.

Twenty minutes after he entered the tent--Ali guessed shrewdly that he
had been allowed to cool his heels for a decorous interval--the officer
backed out. He bowed, a curious and somehow a ludicrous gesture for anyone
so fiery, and held the tent flaps open. When a second man emerged, the
officer stepped humbly to one side and waited whatever action the other
might consider.

Short and squat, at first glance Al Misri seemed a shapeless lump of
human flesh that has somehow been given the breath of life. His silken
robe hung loosely open. Uncovered, his massive head seemed to be
supported directly on his shoulders, without benefit of or need for a
neck. It was bald as an egg. He plopped a date into his mouth and chewed
it as the soldiers moved respectfully back to give him room.

Yet Ali needed only one glance to tell him that Al Misri was far more
than just a funny little fat man who chewed dates in a rather disgusting
manner. His grotesque body was enveloped in an aura not unlike that
which enfolded Ben Akbar. Al Misri commanded because it was his destiny
to command.

He came near, spat the date pit into Ali's face and spoke to the
officer. The latter conveyed the message to Ali.

"Even though Al Misri prefers to kill vermin, you are granted your life.
You win this favor, not through compassion, but because you are able to
ride a _dalul_ that kills other men."

Ali remained silent, as was expected of him. Al Misri gave the officer
another message for the captive camel driver.

"The other keeper of the _dalul_ let it stray," the officer announced.
"The keeper died in a fire, a very slow fire that was kindled at dawn,
but the keeper still nodded his head at high noon. You are now keeper of
the _dalul_. Take care that it strays not."

Without another word or a backward glance, Al Misri turned and waddled
back to his tent. The officer disbanded his men.

Ali led Ben Akbar to pasture at the edge of camp.

       *       *       *       *       *

The travelers came to Tanim, far enough outside Holy Territory so that
there was no possibility of desecrating it, but near enough to furnish a
convenient stopping place for donning the _ihram_, in the cool of early
morning. Not all who had been with the _Hadj_ when Ali finally joined
it--and not all who had since come from one place or another--were still
present. Many good Moslems who would never see the Holy City had died
trying to reach it.

Ali reflected curiously that some of the more devout were dead, while
some who seemed to regard this holy journey in anything except a pious
light were very much alive. A merchant who had come all the way from
Damascus, and who was about to don the _ihram_, deferred the ceremony so
that he might bargain about something or other with another merchant
from Smyrna. Though they were all Moslems--except for The Jackal, Ali
thought quickly--obviously the true light burned brightly for some and
dimly for others.

Ali wondered uneasily about the category in which he belonged. He
worried about the fact that he did not feel greatly different from the
way he had felt while out on the caravan routes or in the bazaar of The
Street Called Straight. He thought he should feel something else.

Though many had died, his pilgrimage had been almost luxurious. He had
nothing at all to do except watch over Ben Akbar, which was simplicity
itself because the powerful young _dalul_ wanted nothing except to be
where Ali was. Though Ali was forbidden to ride, the Pasha of Damascus,
the only human worthy of riding Ben Akbar, had allowed himself to be
carried all the way to Mecca in a sedan chair. Seeing the Pasha once,
and from a distance, Ali decided, to his own satisfaction, at least,
that he had not asked to ride Ben Akbar for the simple reason that he
couldn't. Judging by the Pasha's looks, he'd have trouble riding an
age-broken baggage camel.

Always together, Ali and Ben Akbar had walked all the way. It had still
been the easiest of walks since, as long as he took care of Ben Akbar
and kept himself in the background, Ali was assured ample food and
water. With the finest of care and nothing to do, Ben Akbar was at the
very peak of perfection.

With appropriate ceremony, Ali donned the _ihram_ and ran a mental tally
of the things he must not do until the _Hadj_ came to an end. He must wear
neither head nor foot covering. He must not shave, trim his nails--But
there was nothing in the entire list that forbade taking Ben Akbar with
him. Ali remained troubled, nevertheless because, try as he would, he was
unable to achieve what he considered a necessary level of piety.

Rather than feeling spiritually uplifted by what had been and what was
to be, he could think only that, very shortly, he would have the right
to call himself Hadji Ali.



5. The Unpardonable Sin


Mecca, Holy City of the Moslems, spoke in a strangely subdued whisper
when this particular night finally enfolded it. The great _Hadj_ was
ended--the official termination announced when the wealthier pilgrims
sought barbers to shave them and those without money shaved each other.

The unofficial, but more realistic, termination came about in a
different manner.

Whatever their motives, or degree of zeal, an inspired army had gone to
Mecca. With the _Hadj_ ended, suddenly weary human beings thought with
wistful longing of the homes they'd left and the beloved faces that
became doubly precious because they were absent. Thus the sudden silence
in Mecca, where--every night until this one--lone pilgrims and bands of
pilgrims had gone noisily about various errands. However, not all pilgrims
had chosen to spend this night in their beds.

Ali, now Hadji Ali, stood very quietly in the darkest niche he'd been
able to find of The Masa, The Sacred Course between Mounts Safa and
Marwa. Ben Akbar, never far from Ali's side, stood just as quietly
beside him and Ali wanted no other companion. Hoping to ease a troubled
conscience, he had sought this lonely and deserted spot to try to find
the true significance, which he was sure must exist but had so far
escaped him, of the ceremonies in which he had just participated.

Perhaps, he thought seriously, he was now confused because he had had no
real understanding of any part of anything from the very beginning.
Nobody had told him why the _ihram_ must be donned and adjusted in a
certain way, with certain prescribed motions, and in no other fashion.

With Ben Akbar, who followed like a faithful dog but aroused little
comment in this city where camels were the commonest means of
transportation, Ali had entered Mecca in the prescribed fashion, though
he hadn't the faintest idea as to who had prescribed it or why. At
intervals, and solely because all his companions were doing likewise,
he had shouted "_Labbaika_," a word whose meaning he had not known and
still did not know.

At this point, Ali became so hopelessly entangled in matters he did not
understand that it was necessary to start all over again. However, he
decided not to begin with the _ihram_ this time. The Sacred Course was
also a part of the ceremony, and, being near at hand, it might yield
clues that could not be discerned in that which was far away.

The Sacred Course, connecting the eminences of Safa and Marwa and locale
of the liveliest and most unmanageable bazaar in Mecca, was four hundred
and ninety three paces in length. It was the Trail of Torment imposed on
Hagar, who ran it seven times in a desperate effort to find water for
her infant son. Pilgrims arriving in Mecca accepted as part of their own
ceremony a seven times running of The Sacred Course. This, as Ali had
seen with his own eyes, was subject to various interpretations. Some
pilgrims ran the prescribed seven times but some would have difficulty
walking it once, for despite the hardships of the journey, some of the
afflicted, aged and the simply lazy arrived with every _Hadj_. Then
there were always the eccentrics. Ali himself had been an astounded
witness when one fat Amir reclined in a cushioned sedan chair which six
sweating slaves carried over The Sacred Course the requisite number of
times.

Ali tilted his head and stared miserably into the darkness as the utter
hopelessness of his quest for understanding became increasingly
apparent. It had been important that he earn the right to call himself
Hadji Ali, but, in his heart of hearts, he knew that he'd wanted far
more than that from his holy pilgrimage and he had not received it.
Since millions of Moslems who found all they hoped for in Mecca could
not be wrong, it followed that the fault was personal. So--

Ali's meditations were interrupted by that which he understood
perfectly.

Ben Akbar, swinging his head in the darkness as he turned to look toward
something that had attracted him, gave the first sign that they were no
longer alone. Ali had not seen the move, but he knew Ben Akbar had moved
because he always knew everything the _dalul_ did.

Presently, he knew that a man, or men, were approaching because Ben
Akbar always breathed in a certain cadence whenever men came near. Ali
held very still, hoping the strangers would pass without noticing him.
He knew by their footsteps that there were two of them.

Ali sighed in disappointment when the pair halted only a few feet away.
He was about to call out and make his presence known, for those who have
reason for silence in the darkness also have reason to expect violence,
when someone spoke.

"All know of the plan then, Ahmet?" It was the voice of The Jackal!

"All know," a second man replied.

Ali stood very still, holding his breath. The fact that The Jackal,
whose intentions were anything except holy, was with the _Hadj_, had
caused Ali some uneasy moments. But, he reminded himself once more, if
it was the obvious duty of a good Moslem to reveal a Druse or anyone
else traveling with the _Hadj_ and pretending to be a Moslem, it was
equally true that The Jackal was in an excellent position to do some
revealing of his own. Ali had decided he would not be the first to
speak. Evidently The Jackal was not talking either.

"When is the exact appointed time?" the man named Ahmet asked.

"In another hour, when the followers of Mohammed and the worshipers of
Allah will be enjoying their deepest dreams."

The Jackal voiced a low laugh, and, despite his anxiety, Ali had to
wonder. In the heart of Mecca, surrounded by thousands of Moslems and
certainly with no hope of fighting his way clear, The Jackal could laugh
as easily as though he were in a Druse stronghold. His companion was
less assured.

"Speak gently," he cautioned. "Someone may hear!"

"_Pouf!_" The Jackal scoffed. "The Moslems hear nothing tonight save
the hot wind that shall sing about their ears until they are once again
safe in their homes. The city sleeps, Ahmet."

Ahmet said uneasily, "Some are always awake."

"Have you turned lily-livered?" The Jackal asked sardonically.

Ahmet answered, "I do not think so, but better a lily than a
sword-pierced liver."

"Have I not planned well?" The Jackal demanded.

"One who can select thirty-four men, scatter them throughout a Moslem
_Hadj_ and bring all safely to Mecca, has planned as wisely as he chose
men," Ahmet commented. "Just let there be no mistake at this late hour."

The Jackal said, "The only mistake of which we can be guilty now is in
leaving this place without The Black Stone."

Ali clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a gasp. The Jackal was
indeed playing for big stakes, one of the most colossal prizes in the
history of brigandage, and he seemed in a fair position to get it. Fixed
in the wall of The Kaaba, an edifice so ancient that some claimed it was
here even before Mohammed, The Black Stone was possibly the holiest of
Moslem shrines. In common with all other pilgrims, Ali had dutifully
kissed it. As far as its physical aspects were concerned, it was a
small, dark mass that at one time might have been part of a meteor.
Should anyone ever succeed in stealing it, the Moslem world would pay a
fantastic ransom for its safe return. If nobody stopped The Jackal and
his accomplices, each of them could be so wealthy that the Pasha of
Damascus would seem a beggar by comparison.

Ben Akbar swung his head to nudge Ali's shoulder with an inquiring nose,
and Ali stroked the _dalul's_ soft cheek. Accustomed to spending his
nights in some peaceful pasture, Ben Akbar had no liking for this
confined place, and he was telling his friend so.

Ali tried to conjure up a mental image of The Sacred Course, but he
couldn't do it, in spite of the fact that he had run its length the
stipulated seven times. Because he had hoped to find that in their faces
which would tell him just why they had come to Mecca, and thus furnish
some sure basis upon which he could build his own right motivation for
coming, Ali had studied his fellow pilgrims and ignored the street. Who
could imagine that he or anyone else might have to leave The Masa by the
nearest and quietest path?

There had to be a way because there was always a way, but Ali was still
seeking it when Ben Akbar, increasingly eager to be out of the city that
he did not like and into the desert he did, expressed his impatience in
a racking grunt.

Then there was just one way. Ali drew his dagger and waited.

Out in the night, there was sudden silence, but the very lack of noise
was as lethal as and somehow remarkably similar to the desert adder that
awaits its prey in complete silence and, in striking, makes no noise
that is ever heard by the victim. Ali considered the situation.

Since it was most improbable that there'd be a camel at this place and
hour without a camel driver, the conspirators knew they had been
overheard. In addition, since every camel has its own distinctive voice,
The Jackal had probably recognized Ben Akbar. Therefore, he knew that
Ali had overheard him.

Swiftly, Ali weighed the advantages and disadvantages and considered
possible ways to make the best use of the former, while yielding as
little as possible to the latter.

Beyond any doubt, The Jackal knew that Ben Akbar accepted certain
favored human beings and rejected all others, unless they foolishly
tried to interfere with him. Then he showed his resentment, often
violently. So only a fool would rush in, and The Jackal was no fool.
Neither, Ali told himself, was he a coward who'd be swerved from his
determined purpose by a threatening incident. He'd face a dozen Ben
Akbars before he'd abandon his plan to steal The Black Stone and seek
refuge in flight, but he'd face them in his own way. Ali took a
calculated risk.

"Kneel," he whispered in the _dalul's_ ear.

Ben Akbar obeyed. Stifling a sigh of relief, Ali slipped five paces to
one side and turned so that he was again facing the _dalul_. There had
been a certain unavoidable rattling of pebbles and other small noises
when Ben Akbar knelt, but no sound of a camel leaving the scene. If
Allah were kind, The Jackal would know that Ben Akbar remained where he
had been and would expect to find Ali with him. Rushing in from an
unexpected quarter at the right moment, Ali would have the advantage of
surprise and some hope of victory, in spite of two to one odds.

Ali thought, but very fleetingly, of calling out an offer to negotiate.
He'd go his way and maintain his silence, if the pair would promise no
interference. But The Jackal had come too far and risked too much to
incur the further risk of a knowing head and a possibly loose tongue;
he'd never accept the offer. Nor could Ali really have brought himself
to make it.

Even though he had failed to find the assured spiritual awakening he'd
earnestly hoped to discover in Mecca, he could not be disloyal to a
Faith he'd voluntarily accepted. Even though he himself failed to
appreciate the significance of The Black Stone, as a good Moslem, he
could not see it defiled.

Dagger in hand, Ali stood very quietly in the darkness. Though he was
looking toward Ben Akbar and the _dalul_ was only a few paces away, the
darkness was so intense that he could barely discern the camel's
outline. He neither saw nor heard anything else. It was as though Ali
and Ben Akbar were the only inhabitants of a world suddenly turned
black.

Ali battled the illusion, for the very silence and the feeling that he
was alone were sufficient evidence that he faced deadly danger. The
Jackal was no amateur who would seek to cow his enemy by hissed threats,
mislead him by thrown stones or other ruses, or indulge in any other
melodrama. He compared favorably with the tawny-maned lion who lays his
ambush at a water hole where gazelles drink. Having decided that killing
was in order, The Jackal would kill with a maximum of speed and
efficiency, brought about by a lifetime of experience.

Ben Akbar did not even move. He would remain exactly as he was and where
he was until Ali himself gave permission to get up or until circumstances
beyond his friend's control forced him to arise. A lump rose in Ali's
throat. Ben Akbar was far more than just a magnificent _dalul_. He was
Ali's other self, a true brother and to be loved as such. Ali renewed
his vow that, so long as Allah saw fit to spare him, just so long would
he and Ben Akbar face the same winds, traveling side by side.

Suddenly, seeing his pilgrimage in an entirely new light, it was no
longer a disappointment but more than rewarding. Perhaps, in His
infinite wisdom, Allah bestowed different gifts upon different
pilgrims, according to their true intentions. Ali knew that he was
contented now, for, because of his pilgrimage, he had Ben Akbar. He
would no longer stand alone against the world.

Presently, Ali became aware of great and immediate danger.

It was no sudden perception accompanied by sudden shock, but a complete
and whole revelation, the ripening of each separate incident since The
Jackal and Ahmet had appeared. Unless he did something about it, Ali's
senses told him, he would be dead very shortly. At the same time, so
clear was the light that bathed his mind, he was instantly able to
understand exactly how this had come about.

He had underestimated The Jackal. Hearing Ben Akbar grunt, the man had
identified him instantly. But he had also identified the tiny sounds
made by a camel kneeling and he'd known why Ben Akbar was made to kneel.
The Jackal, had decided, not only that Ali would not await directly
beside Ben Akbar, but also exactly where he would be found. It was what
The Jackal himself might have done under similar circumstances. Now,
dagger poised, he stood directly behind Ali and needed only one more
silent step to carry him into a striking position.

When Ali moved, he did so swiftly, bending at the knees even while he
swiveled the upper portion of his body forward to make a smaller
target. At the same time, he pivoted on the balls of his feet, so that
he made a complete turn and faced his enemy. He thrust with all his
strength.

The dagger's point found resistance, but not unyielding resistance. It
bit hungrily into something that was both soft and warm. There was a
gasp, a strangled grunt, then an almost gentle rustle as The Jackal
wilted backwards and his own burnous enfolded him.

A shout cracked the darkness as a hammer blow might crack a pane of
glass. "Now then! Close in!"

Bloody dagger still in his extended hand, Ali only half heard either the
shout or the patter of running feet that immediately followed. Aghast at
what he'd done but never intended to do, he remained rooted in his
tracks. This was Mecca, The Holy City, and shedding blood within its
borders was one of the very few sins for which there was no pardon.
Mohammed himself, when making prisoners of some enemies who sought to
hide in Mecca, could carry out his own death sentence only by locking
them in a building and letting them starve. No Moslem was wealthy or
influential enough to attain forgiveness for shedding blood in Mecca.

So complete was his horror and so shocking, for a short space Ali was
only vaguely aware of rough hands that gripped him. Then someone spoke.
Ali recognized the voice of the fierce officer who had ambushed the
Druse.

"It is the camel rider who was made keeper of the _dalul_, and he too
has let his charge stray."

A groan sounded in the darkness.

"He has done more than that," someone whom Ali could barely see said in
an awed whisper. "He has shed blood in the Holy City."

"Fool!" the officer said to Ali contemptuously. "We knew who they were
and were ready to take them! I would not care to wear your burnous at
this moment!"

The single reason why he was not already lying beside the wounded man,
Ali told himself, could be ascribed to the fact that the fierce officer
dared not shed blood in Mecca. Certainly his execution would not be
delayed when they no longer stood on Holy Ground.

Then the fog that had dulled Ali's brain when he stabbed The Jackal
faded away. He thought of words voiced by the officer, 'the camel rider
who was made keeper of the _dalul_, and he too has let his charge
stray.' Obviously, the soldiers were unaware of Ben Akbar's nearness.
Ali saw his one hope of escape.

"Ho!" he called loudly and clearly. "Ben Akbar! Come to me! Run!"

There was a rattling of pebbles as Ben Akbar hastened to obey.
Astonished soldiers, who hadn't even suspected this and needed a moment
to decide what it might be, dodged out of the _dalul's_ path or were
knocked out of it.

Side by side, Ali and Ben Akbar ran on until the friendly mantle of
night hid both.



6. The Strange Ship


The first light of day was followed almost at once by the first blast
of heat. Then the sun rose, a burning red ball that seemed to roll
across the eastern horizon with steadily increasing speed, as though to
gain momentum for leaping into the sky.

The rein hung slack and Ali dozed in the saddle as Ben Akbar paced
steadily onward. When the bright sun flashed in his eyes, Ali awakened
and halted his mount with, "Ho, my brother! Let us stop."

Ben Akbar halted, knelt when commanded to do so, and Ali dismounted.

As the sun climbed higher and grew hotter, Ali pondered his present
situation, the immediate past and the probable future. In his mind's
eye, he drew a map of the general area and of his approximate position.

At a rough estimate, Mecca was halfway down the east shore of the Red
Sea, a great sweep of water whose most northerly waves break on the
Sinai Peninsula and whose southern extremity mingles with the Gulf of
Aden, a thousand or more miles away. Directly to the east was the land
of the Arabs. Ali's native Syria was northeast, and beyond Syria lay
Turkey.

Since it was manifestly impossible to cross the Red Sea without a
suitable ship, Ali's choice of directions were north, south and east. It
was a difficult choice, for, wherever he went, he would still be in a
land of Moslems. Even if he might somehow contrive to cross the Red Sea,
he must necessarily disembark in Moslem Egypt.

Because he had shed blood in Holy Mecca, he was and forever must be
outcast by all true Moslems. Moreover, with thousands of home-going
pilgrims and each one an indignant bearer of the tale of desecration,
very shortly Ali would be a marked man throughout the Moslem world. Any
Moslem who killed him would be honored, not prosecuted.

Now all that belonged to the dead past. This was the living present, and
Ali wondered curiously why he was unable to regard that present in the
grave light cast by facts as they were. He'd gained in Mecca the coveted
right to call himself Hadji Ali, and, considering the turn of
circumstances that now meant nothing whatever. It made not the slightest
difference what name he carried. But, far from surrendering to despair
or even giving way to anxiety, Ali felt that the _Hadj_ had brought him
a whole new future and that it had never been so hopeful.

He stroked the _dalul's_ neck with affectionately understanding hands.
Ben Akbar made happy little noises with his mouth and the rein trailed
in the desert sand. Ali stooped to pick it up. The rein was not
necessary because he could still guide Ben Akbar by voiced commands,
but, since he was setting out on what would most certainly be a long
journey, he had felt that it was desirable to have proper trappings for
his mount.

As soon as Ali began to plan ahead after his flight from Mecca, he
decided that he must reach the camp of Al Misri, the most accessible
source of camel harness, before the soldiers were able to bring their
news there. He accomplished that by making Ben Akbar kneel when both had
run a safe distance, then mounting and riding at full speed until he was
within a discreet distance of the camp. There--even if he has completed
the _Hadj_, a camel's groom must not be caught riding a _dalul_ reserved
exclusively for the Pasha of Damascus--Ali dismounted and walked the
rest of the way.

Familiar figures about the camp, the pair attracted only indifferent
glances from the sentries. As though he were acting under orders, Ali
went directly to the supply tent to choose a proper saddle and bridle.
The bridle presented no problem, but Ali was able to find a saddle only
after rejecting a dozen of the biggest ones and finally hitting upon the
largest of all. In superb condition, Ben Akbar's sleek hump seemed ready
to burst. None but the biggest saddle would fit.

However, foreseeing probable hardship, and the consequent shrinking of
the _dalul's_ hump, Ali gathered up a sufficient supply of saddle pads.
Finally, he chose a goatskin water bag and, as payment for all, left the
single coin that had remained to him after paying for his _ihram_. It
was not enough, and he knew it, but it was all he had.

Leading Ben Akbar, Ali filled his water bag at the oasis and went on.
The sentries who watched all this but failed to act were lulled partly
by the fact that Ali was a familiar part of the camp and, as far as the
sentries knew, above suspicion. They were further disarmed by the very
audacity of the scheme. Nobody, certainly not a camel's groom, would
walk brazenly into a camp commanded by Al Misri and steal trappings to
equip the Pasha's prized _dalul_, which he also intended to steal!

A safe distance from camp, Ali mounted and rode. He struck inland,
veering away from the route that would be selected by most of the
home-going pilgrims, letting Ben Akbar choose his own moderate pace all
night long. Nobody could follow him in the darkness, anyhow, and it was
wise to spare his mount.

Now, as he stood beside the reclining _dalul_ and the burning sun
pursued its torrid course, Ali considered that which was as inevitable
as the eventual setting of the sun.

It was a foregone conclusion that some tracker had taken the trail as
soon as he was able to see it, and the pursuers would waste no time. Nor
would they ever give up. Who stole a _dalul_ from the Pasha of Damascus
might escape only if he sought and found asylum with one of the Pasha's
powerful enemies. But who desecrated Holy Mecca would never find safety
in any Moslem land. In addition, Ali thought, the officer and all the
men who'd been with him would now make a heretic's punishment a point of
honor, a blood quest from which only death would free them.

Ali still saw hope that could not have been without Ben Akbar. As
individuals, either was assailable. Together, they were invincible.

Counting from the time they'd left Al Misri's camp to the first light of
day, Ali gave meticulous consideration to the pace set by Ben Akbar and
the type of terrain they'd traveled. When finished, he knew within a few
rods either way just how far they had come and within a few minutes,
plus or minus, when pursuers could be expected. Ali turned to Ben Akbar.

"Rest," he crooned, as he removed saddle and bridle. "Rest and forage,
oh Prince among _dalul_. Come to me then, and you shall teach the
Pasha's soldiers the true speed of a _dalul_."

Ben Akbar wandered forth to crop the coarse desert vegetation. Choosing
the doubtful shade offered by a copse of scrub, Ali lay down and drew
his burnous about him. He slept peacefully and soundly, as though he'd
somehow managed to purge his mind of certain grim prospects for the
immediate future and rest alone mattered. A bit more than three hours
later, as Ali had planned when he chose his bed, the blazing sun shone
directly upon him and its glare broke his slumber.

He did not, as had been his habit, lie quietly and without moving until
he determined exactly what lay about him and what, if anything, he
should do about it. Ben Akbar, who always knew long before his master
when anything approached--and always let Ali know--made such precautions
unnecessary. The great _dalul_ was grazing quietly and only a few feet
away.

"To me, my brother," Ali called softly.

Ben Akbar came at once and Ali replaced the saddle and bridle. About to
take a swallow of water, he decided to wait until Ben Akbar could also
have a satisfactory drink or until thirst became unbearable. In the
latter event, they'd share the contents of the water bag.

Ali thought calmly of the journey before him. A novice attempting such a
trip would invite his own death, and even an experienced desert traveler
would find such an undertaking very precarious. However, Ali, who'd
spent most of his life on the caravan routes, thought of it as just one
more journey.

The merciless sun spared nothing. Waves of heat rolled along with
monotonous regularity, as though the heat blanket were a mighty ocean
beset by a steady wind. Ali turned his back to the sun's direct rays and
watched Ben Akbar. He was hot and thirsty, and becoming hotter and
thirstier, but so had he been before and would be again.

The sun was almost exactly where Ali had decided it should be when Ben
Akbar raised his head and fixed his attention on the western horizon. It
was the direction from which they had come, that from which pursuit
should come. Ali turned to face the same way as Ben Akbar.

A few minutes later, they rode over a hillock and Ali saw them. They
were a little group of the Pasha's crack troops, superbly mounted on
magnificent _dalul_ and maintaining tight formation behind a tracker.
Ali reached up to fondle Ben Akbar's neck but kept his eyes on the
riders. They were seven, including the tracker, and Ali knew at once why
there were no more than seven and no fewer.

He was no ordinary outlaw, but a direct affront to all that Moslems held
most dear. He must be brought to justice, and no effort would be spared
to do so. Thus the tracker was the best to be found. The six soldiers
were picked men. Finally, the seven _dalul_ were the very elite of the
almost thirty thousand camels with the _Hadj_. There were no more than
seven pursuers because there was not another _dalul_ to keep pace with
these seven.

Ali did not have to ask himself if the seven _dalul_ were fresh or
weary; their riders would know how to conserve their mounts. Ben Akbar
had had less than four hours' rest.

Standing quietly beside Ben Akbar, Ali told himself that he had wanted
and planned to have the pursuit take form in just this way, and he would
not change now if he could. He himself might have ridden much farther in
the hours that had elapsed since leaving Al Misri's camp, but he'd have
done it at the expense of Ben Akbar. The test had to come, and it was
better to meet it in this fashion.

The soldiers sighted him and urged their mounts from an easy trot to a
swift lope. Ali waited until they were within two hundred and fifty
yards, well beyond effective range of smoothbore muskets, before he
turned to Ben Akbar and said quietly, "Kneel."

Ben Akbar knelt and Ali mounted. At ease in the saddle, he turned to
watch the soldiers sweep nearer. A momentary doubt assailed him as a
close-up inspection of their _dalul_ revealed the full magnificence of
such animals. Ali put the doubt behind him and told Ben Akbar to run.

At home in a camel saddle as he seldom fitted in elsewhere, Ali did not
waste another backward glance as Ben Akbar flew on. He knew what lay
behind him, and that he could expect no mercy whether his back or his
face was toward the pursuers. Wherever it struck, the blade of a sword
would be equally sharp and bite as deeply.

After fifteen minutes, and the blade not felt, Ali knew he'd chosen
wisely when he gave his very life into Ben Akbar's keeping. He still did
not look behind him. _Dalul_ such as the soldiers mounted were not
easily outdistanced, but there was a mighty vein of comfort in that very
thought. Ben Akbar would never again be pursued by swifter _dalul_ or
more skilful riders. If he won this race, he'd win all to come.

An hour and a half afterwards, Ali finally looked around. With less than
a two-hundred-yard lead at the beginning of the race, Ben Akbar had
doubled that distance between himself and the three swiftest pursuers.
The remaining four, in order of their speed, straggled behind the
leaders. Ali slowed Ben Akbar so that his pace exceeded by the scantiest
margin that of the three leaders.

When a cool wind announced the going of the day and the coming of the
night, the nearest of the seven pursuers was a mere dot in the distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The bitter autumn wind that snarled in from the Mediterranean had sent a
herd of tough, desert-bred goats to the shelter of some boulders and
made them stand close together for the warmth one found in another.
Riding past on Ben Akbar, Ali gave the shivering herd the barest of
glances and turned his gaze to the horizon. He missed nothing, a highly
practical talent whose development had been markedly accelerated by
necessity.

Behind lay an incredible journey. Eluding the soldiers, Ali rode on into
the very heart of the Arabian desert. Always he sought the lonelier
places, shepherd's or camel herder's camps and the smallest villages. At
first his experiences had conformed strictly to what any solitary
traveler might expect. As the news spread and Ali's ill fame became part
of the talk at even the most isolated campfires, his fortunes changed
accordingly.

He seldom met anything except cold hatred and outright hostility.
Normally it was accompanied by dread, not entirely a disadvantage since,
whatever else they thought, trembling natives who recognized Ali feared
to refuse him food and other necessities. He fought when he could not
avoid fighting, but much preferred to run. Ben Akbar had shown his heels
to more soldiers, tribesmen and just plain bandits than Ali could
remember.

With an almost desperate yearning for anyone at all who'd exchange a
friendly word, eventually Ali turned to his native Syria, where he hoped
to find a friend. He found a hatred more bitterly intense than anything
experienced elsewhere; every Syrian seemed to think that he must bear
part of the shame for a countryman who had defiled the Holy City. Now
Ali was farther north, in the land of the Turks and riding toward the
port of Smyrna.

Rounding a bend that brought him in sight of the Mediterranean, Ali
halted Ben Akbar and stared in amazement.

He was on the shoreside wall of a u-shaped rock ledge that extended into
the sea and formed a natural harbor. Some distance out, a great sailing
ship that flew a foreign flag rode at anchor. Though he could not read
it and had no more than a vague notion that it might be read, Ali could
make out her name. She was the _Supply_.

Halfway between shore and ship, a scow propelled by oarsmen and carrying
a kneeling camel that seemed to be strapped in position, was making
toward the _Supply_. On the shore beneath Ali, a number of other camels
were tethered. One had lain down, and eight Egyptian camel handlers
seemed interested in making it get up again.

With a fine contempt for Egyptians generally, and Egyptian camel
handlers specifically, Ali had decided to his own satisfaction that
these last fell back on forceful crudity simply because they were too
stupid to master the right ways of handling camels. Ali's curiosity
mounted because, contrary to their usual procedure, these handlers were
gently trying to make the camel get up.

Then the scow reached the ship, the men who had been on the scow
disappeared on the _Supply_ and took the camel with them, whereupon the
Egyptian handlers abruptly changed tactics. Kicking together a pile of
rubble, someone started a fire. A pail appeared from somewhere and was
put over the fire. A raging Ali leaped from Ben Akbar and toward the
group.

He had not intended to interfere. If the Egyptians were stupid enough to
abuse their own camel, then let them be deprived of the beast that much
sooner. Ali would not have interfered if the Egyptian handlers had done
almost anything except what they were obviously about to do--make the
camel get up by pouring boiling pitch over its tail. Hearing Ali, the
eight turned as one and greeted him with hostile stares.

"Swine!" Ali snarled. "Offspring of diseased fleas! Eaters of camel
dung!"

He emphasized his insults with a blow to the midriff that sent the
nearest Egyptian spinning, and immediately the seven were upon him. Ali
delivered a smart kick to the shin that left one hopping about on one
foot and howling with pain, landed a clenched fist squarely on the jaw
of another, and then a sledge hammer collided with his own head.

Night came suddenly. Then light shone through the dark curtain, and Ali
looked up at two men who stood before him. One, a native interpreter,
was foppish in garment and manner. The other, arrayed in clothing such
as Ali had never seen, commanded instant respect. Tall, slim, strong and
young, he had the same air of strength and authority that marked Al
Misri. He spoke in a strange tongue to the interpreter, who addressed
Ali.

"Lieutenant Porter demands to know why you attacked his men."

Ali gestured toward the kneeling camel. "They would have made it rise by
pouring boiling pitch on its tail."

The interpreter conveyed this information to Lieutenant Porter, who
whirled at once on the Egyptians.

"I've told all of you that I will tolerate no cruelty," he began.

Not understanding a word, nevertheless Ali listened with mingled awe and
admiration as Lieutenant Porter continued to speak. His words, Ali
thought happily, were a lion's roar, and it was better to be whipped
than to endure them because a whip could not remove skin nearly as well.
The eight Egyptians, like eight beaten dogs, slunk away. Lieutenant
Porter addressed the interpreter, who conveyed the message to Ali.

"Can you make the camel rise?"

Ali got to his feet, smoothed his burnous and went to the stubborn
camel. He took hold of the tether rope while he stooped to whisper in
its ear, "Rise, my little one. Rise, my beauty. The trail is long and
the day is short."

The camel rose and began to lick Ali's hand. Ali addressed the
interpreter. "Where are these camels going?"

"To America," the interpreter assured him.

"But--" A bewildered Ali looked from the stately ship to the tethered
camels. "Is a land wealthy enough to have such a ship, so poor as to
have no camels?"

Treating this question with haughty disdain, the interpreter relayed
another message. "Lieutenant Porter wishes to know if you will go to
America with the camels?"

Ali hesitated, then asked, "Is America a land of Moslems?"

The interpreter conferred with Lieutenant Porter and turned to Ali.
"There are no Moslems."

Ali indicated Ben Akbar, silhouetted on top of the ledge. "May my
_dalul_ come, too?"

"He may," the interpreter assured him.

Ali said joyously, "Then we will go."

He didn't know where America was or what he might find on arrival, but
he was sure that he and Ben Akbar, together, could make their own way
anywhere at all.



7. Another Pilgrimage


Beginning at her stern and bearing to the starboard side, Ali set out
to become more intimately acquainted with the ship. Almost every step
brought to light a fresh marvel. As a camel driver who traveled with
caravans, at one time or another he had been in every port that a
caravan can visit, and he was not unfamiliar with ships. But never
before had he seen anything to compare with the _Supply_.

A hundred and forty-one feet over all, the wooden three-master had a
main and a quarterdeck. An official United States Navy ship, she was
armed with a battery of four twenty-four pounders. One glance revealed
that her crew of forty officers and men believed in and strictly adhered
to the rules of first-class seamanship; the _Supply_ was as spotlessly
clean as she was trim.

Had she been a conventional ship, Ali would have considered her
impressive enough. As it was, he found her overwhelming.

Jefferson Davis, United States Secretary of War, was one of several
outstanding Americans who'd long cherished the notion that camels might
very well help solve some of the troublesome problems of transportation
involved in settling America's vast, arid and little-known Southwest.
Finally, granted official permission to subject this theory to a
practical test, the _Supply_ had been rebuilt for the sole purpose of
importing an experimental herd.

A well-built stable, sixty feet long, twelve feet wide and not quite
seven feet six inches high, extended from just behind the foremast to
just in front of the quarterdeck. On either side were twenty portholes
that could be left open when weather permitted, but each porthole was
equipped with a panel of glass that closed from the inside in cold
weather and wooden shutters that swung from the outside and were to be
used during violent storms or in heavy seas. Midway was a hatch that
offered direct entry to the stable, and that could be lowered for
loading or unloading and raised when the ship was at sea.

Front and rear, high enough above the main deck so that even the most
turbulent waves would not wash over them, were other hatches fitted with
wind sails--canvas funnels--that admitted air but excluded everything
else. Thus, even when it was necessary to close the portholes, there was
no danger that the camels would suffocate.

Every stall was fitted with a harness, so arranged that the stall's
occupant might have complete freedom of movement when the _Supply_ was
in smooth sailing, or be strapped firmly in a kneeling position and
unable to move at all, when the ship was in stormy seas. Further to
minimize injuries that might result from being tossed about, bags filled
with hay were secured to every beam and anything else that a camel might
bump. The stable floor was covered with clean, fresh litter. Reflector
lamps would illuminate the stable if it should be necessary to attend
the camels at night.

A supply of fresh water was contained in two huge tanks, each holding
thirty thousand gallons, and a fire extinguisher was arranged so that it
could draw on either tank or both. A sterile cabinet held an ample
supply of every known remedy for any aliment that might afflict a camel.
The hold of the _Supply_ was filled to the bursting point with a store
of the finest and cleanest hay and grain. No necessity or luxury that a
camel might need--or that somebody fancied a camel might need--had been
omitted.

There were twenty camels already in the stable and they were making
themselves at home there. Twenty-four, including Ben Akbar, remained to
be brought on board.

Thirty-seven of the herd were young females, many of which were with
young. Every one of the forty-three beasts that the American buyers had
selected was an outstanding creature, all in their prime and none with
any blemishes or deformities. But even though he must concede that the
Americans knew how to choose camels, Ali was both baffled and dazzled by
their sending of the _Supply_, obviously representing a tremendous
investment, to carry a mere forty-four of even the finest camels all the
way to America. Few of the desert-roving camel breeders of Ali's
acquaintance would consider it worth their while to drive so small a
herd to market, not even if the market was only four miles away.

Rounding the front of the stable and continuing sternward on the
opposite side of the _Supply_, Ali felt a tense ripple travel up his
spine and reassured himself that his dagger was at hand when he saw
another camel handler approaching. Eight natives in all, seven besides
Ali, had been retained to accompany this herd to America and Ali hadn't
the faintest doubt that each one knew all the details of his story. But
far from any hostile gesture or incident, nobody had even mentioned
Mecca, to say nothing of the punishment sure to attend any who shed
blood in the Holy City. There was a variety of possible explanations for
such forbearance. Maybe the seven were lukewarm Moslems, who simply
didn't care; perhaps, like Ali, they had personal reasons for wanting to
go to some land where Moslems were few; possibly they intended to take
action but were waiting for the right moment.

When he was near enough to his fellow camel handler, Mimico Teodara, Ali
said decorously, "I greet thee."

"And I thee," the other replied.

Ali relaxed. If Mimico knew his story--and beyond doubt he did know--and
if he were a strict Moslem, he would not have spoken to Ali at all. For
a moment they remained side by side and both glanced toward the tethered
camels that remained on shore. Ali, who somehow felt that Mimico might
become his friend, spoke of the riddle that had been puzzling him.

"It is strange, almost past understanding, that Americans would send
such a ship, at vast expense, to carry only forty-four camels to
America."

"Strange indeed," his companion agreed. "Even more to be wondered at is
the fact that, the first time they came, they returned with only
thirty-three camels."

Surprised, Ali asked, "They have been here before?"

Mimico nodded. "This is their second voyage."

"Come," the foppish interpreter said, "this is not a time for idling."

Ali and Mimico walked silently to the lowered hatch through which the
camels were brought on board and took their places in the boat that was
moored against it. The device employed to bring camels from shore to
ship, Ali felt, was another startling example of American ingenuity.
Twenty feet long by seven wide, the boat used as a ferry was fitted with
a hinged door at each end. A wheeled truck, sturdy enough to support the
biggest camel, could be pushed through either door and secured in such a
manner that it neither moved nor unbalanced the ferry.

Of very shallow draft, the oarsmen had no difficulty in running the
ferry up on any beach. Then the hinged door was lowered and the truck
run out. A camel was led onto the truck, made to kneel and strapped in
place. The truck was pushed back onto the ferry, the door was raised,
and the launching accomplished. Reaching the _Supply_, the door on the
opposite end was lowered and the ferry brought squarely against the
lowered hatch. Then it was necessary only to push the truck and its
helpless passenger onto the deck of the _Supply_ and into the stable.

Ali, who thought he knew all the methods of moving camels, had to admit
that he'd never even heard of this one.

Mimico, who had a fine touch with camels, brought the next passenger. It
was a great Bactrian, or two-humped male. As it was led onto the truck,
made to kneel and strapped in place, Ali wondered. Bactrians were
enormous beasts, some weighing a ton or more, and this was an especially
fine specimen. There was no doubting the strength of a two-humped camel,
but caravan trails were usually long ones. Often, what with delivering
one cargo at one point, picking up another for a different destination,
and there getting still another, a year or more might elapse before a
train of camels finally returned to the home from which they had set
out. Such wandering was certain to be attended by conditions that varied
from lush browse and ample water to scant forage and near drought. A
camel's hump changed accordingly, so that often nothing except the very
skilful application of pads made it possible to keep a firm saddle on a
beast with only one hump. Naturally, a beast with two humps could be
twice the trouble. In addition, Ali thought, Bactrians were less hardy.

Under the skilful direction of Ali and Mimico, all the camels except Ben
Akbar were finally loaded. On the final trip, Mimico leaped out as soon
as the ferry was beached and went to bring Ali's _dalul_.

Ali waited, saying nothing. The more they were together, the better he
liked Mimico, who handled camels with consummate skill and never used
words when deeds were in order. Ali waited now to find if his judgment
was sound. If Mimico passed what Ben Akbar considered a respectful
distance, the _dalul_ would show his resentment. If Mimico was the camel
man he seemed to be, he would recognize Ben Akbar for what he was and
halt before he was dangerously near.

Before Ben Akbar lunged, Mimico halted, turned and beckoned. Ali strode
forward to lead his _dalul_ to the ferry.

       *       *       *       *       *

All sails spread to a stiff and favorable wind, the _Supply_ skimmed
along at a fast eight knots an hour. Leaning against an outside wall of
the camel stable, beside the porthole near which Ben Akbar was tethered,
and through which he was thrusting his nose, Ali kept anxious eyes on
the horizon where land should appear.

Since that day when the _Supply_ had sliced into the Mediterranean and
the haze-shrouded coast of Turkey had slipped always farther behind and
then disappeared, almost three full months had come and gone. By no
means had they passed swiftly.

One furious storm followed another while the _Supply_ pursued her course
in the Mediterranean. Much of the time it had been necessary to strap
the camels in place, to keep them from being tumbled about as the ship
listed one way or another. It had been impossible to prevent all injury,
but only three of the forty-four camels had died.

Two of them were Bactrians, the only two-humped camels in the present
cargo. This gave additional support for Ali's theory that they were less
hardy than their Arabian cousins. He did not draw any positive
conclusions because Lieutenant Porter disagreed with him, saying that
species had nothing to do with it and the two Bactrians merely happened
to be less hardy individuals. Ali offered no argument because of an ever
increasing respect for Lieutenant Porter's knowledge and wisdom.

In part, Ali was influenced by the fact that Porter was the only man on
board besides Ali himself who had succeeded in winning Ben Akbar's
friendship. But more than that was involved.

As the _Supply_ lay at anchor off the Turkish coast, it was evident that
Lieutenant Porter was not an authority on camels. But in sharp contrast
with some men Ali had known, the American had proven himself both
willing and eager to learn, and he included the eight native camel
drivers among his teachers. But from the first, to Ali's vast
astonishment and then to his boundless delight, Porter did not find it
necessary to base his behavior upon that pursued by haughty sheiks and
amirs who conversed with camel drivers.

Nobody on the _Supply_ ever forgot that Lieutenant Porter was in
command, but nobody ever had reason to feel that the officer considered
them inferior. Ali nursed a happy conviction that America must be a
wonderful land indeed if many Americans were like the skipper of the
_Supply_.

A little distance from Ali, Mimico was also leaning against the camel
stable and waiting for the first sight of land. The pair had become
friends during the voyage, but, after so many days at sea, neither Ali
nor Mimico wanted to do anything except look at some land.

Presently Ali saw it, the sea rolling up on a flat and treeless shore
and the waves falling back. Then it disappeared, a tantalizing vision
that first enticed and then crushed. But it came again and did not
disappear. Ali's eager eyes drank in as much as possible of this first
look at America.

The shore was flat and treeless, but not by any means was it deserted. A
great crowd of people, everything from officials come to receive the
camels to the curious who wanted only to look, awaited. There was a
wooden pier and a group of buildings that comprised the town of
Indianola, Texas.

A lighter that had been lingering at the pier was now making toward
them. The ship met the _Supply_ and drew alongside. A camel was brought
from its stall and a harness was strapped about and beneath it. A cable
dangling from the lighter's boom was attached to the harness and the
kicking, frightened camel was transferred from the _Supply_ to the
lighter.

Lieutenant Porter gestured to Ali and Mimico, ordering, "Go aboard the
lighter and help out."

The pair entered a small boat that took them to the lighter, where they
received all the camels as they came. With gentle touch and soothing
voices, they calmed the frightened animals and averted what might have
become a catastrophe.

Busy with the camels, Ali had time for only the briefest of shoreward
glances. His first close-up impression of America was a restricted
one--a small section of the pier which they were approaching. Standing
on it were two horses, hitched to a light wagon. A red-faced, red-haired
man who had come to see the unloading occupied the wagon seat and held
the horses' reins.

There was no time for a prolonged scrutiny; the camels must be put
ashore as soon as possible. Mimico climbed from the lighter to the pier
and made ready to receive them. Ali strapped the harness about the first
camel to be unloaded. The boom lifted it.

Then the horses screamed, the red-faced man roared, and a full scale
upheaval was in progress!



8. Trouble


As soon as the horses began to scream and the man to shout, the camels
quieted. It was what they should do, and Ali would have been astonished
if they hadn't. Taken from familiar stalls and immediately thereafter
swung on the boom, they had been roused to the verge of stampede. But
they had not been hurt and saw no indication that they might be hurt
when the new danger threatened.

The camels had not detected this fresh peril and were not directly aware
of it, but the screams of the horses and shouts of the driver were
evidence enough that it existed. The camels responded as though they
were part of a caravan under attack. Whatever peril lurked, it might
pass them by if they stood quietly.

The herd again tractable, Ali put a companionable hand on Ben Akbar's
shoulder and turned toward the pier. His eyes widened in astonishment.

Mimico had received and was holding the tether rope of the single beast
that had been transferred to the pier. It was one of the young females,
and, like all the rest of the herd, it was standing very quietly. But on
the pier and within a wide radius, Mimico and the young camel seemed to
be the only living creatures that were quiet.

The terrified horses, bereft of all reason, had wrenched control from
their driver. Whirling crazily, they had missed dashing off the pier and
into the water by no more than a wagon wheel's width. Now, with the
red-haired driver still trying with all his strength to stop them, they
were running away at top speed. As Ali watched, a wheel struck a boulder
and the wagon bounded high in the air.

To one side, a black-bearded man had been indolently sitting on a gaunt
dun mule, with one foot in a stirrup and the other cocked up on the
saddle, while his chin rested on the upraised knee. Suddenly and
obviously to the man's complete surprise--the mule began an insane
bucking. The startled rider dropped his upraised foot, groped for and
couldn't find the stirrup, and missed the dangling reins when he
snatched at them. He leaned forward to wrap both arms about the mule's
neck and clung desperately.

Two saddled horses whose riders were among the crowd reared and danced
in a mad effort to break their tethers. A horse that had not been
picketed whirled and, tail high over its rump, galloped away. Everybody
on shore except Mimico seemed to be shouting or screaming, or shouting
and screaming.

A small boat moved up beside the lighter and more men came aboard. Four
were native camel handlers but the fifth was a quiet young American
named, Ali remembered, Gwynne Heap. With a taste for adventure and a
knowledge of Eastern languages and customs derived from previous
residence in the East, Heap had contributed at least as much as anyone
else to the successful purchase and importation of the camel herd. Now
he took competent command.

"You have no trouble?" he asked quietly.

"No trouble," Ali told him.

Gwynne Heap called to Lieutenant Porter, who had remained in the small
boat, "Everything's under control."

"Keep them coming," Lieutenant Porter called back. "They must be
unloaded."

Lieutenant Porter and the men who remained with him joined Mimico and
made ready to help receive the camels. Ali began to harness the next
animal scheduled for unloading.

He became absorbed in what he was doing, adjusting each strap and
fastening each buckle with a fussy attention to detail that was both
unnecessary and so time-consuming that it drew reprimanding glances from
Gwynne Heap. Ali refused either to hurry or to look toward the shore,
but refusing to turn his eyes toward it in no way obliterated the ugly
thing that awaited there. The resentful crowd was still in an uproar.
Ali thought sadly of the joyous welcome his imagination had created for
these camels, so vital to his own country, when they finally reached
America.

The harnessed camel was finally swung away on the boom, and, still
refusing to glance shoreward, Ali began to help prepare the next in
line. He tried to console himself with the thought that Lieutenant
Porter was still in command and nobody would dare challenge him, but in
his heart he knew that it was not so. If camels were not wanted in
America, they could not be here. Nobody could force their acceptance.

Then, as always when facing a problem that seemed to have no solution,
Ali stopped thinking about it. He knew from experience that it was not
wise to borrow trouble. The rising sun shone on not just one but many
different paths that led in many different directions. One could always
find the right way if he was properly diligent in the search.

One by one, the camels were landed until only Ben Akbar was left. Ali
finally glanced shoreward, to discover that Lieutenant Porter and his
men had rigged a picket line, a long rope stretched across the pier, and
they were tethering the camels to it as they were lowered and
unharnessed. Ali saw also that the herd was again becoming restless, but
this time there was no cause for concern.

The crowd was still in an uproar and such horses as had not already
broken away were trying their best to do so. The camels had definitely
decided that whatever might be bothering everything else would not
disturb them. However, after many weeks at sea, at last they were once
again on firm footing. That was very exciting.

His companions stood back while Ali alone harnessed Ben Akbar, then took
hold of the boom and rode with him as the great _dalul_ was transferred
from the lighter to the pier. He saw, even as he descended, that the
tethered camels were fast becoming unmanageable. They both smelled and
saw the earth that lay just beyond the pier and they were frantic to
feel it. For all his skill, not even Mimico would be able to maintain
control much longer.

The spectators--those with horses had wisely left them behind--had come
nearer and were arranged in a rough U at the end of the pier and on
either side. Lieutenant Porter, who looked more worried than he had
during the stormiest part of the voyage, paced nervously back and
forth. Again and again he searched the crowd, as though expecting to
find someone who should be present but was not.

Keeping a firm grip on Ben Akbar's lead rope, because he knew that big
_dalul_ was as anxious as any of the rest to feel earth under his feet,
Ali turned to study the crowd, too. Except for a group distinguished by
their uniforms, and further marked as soldiers by their arms and precise
formation, he learned nothing except that Americans wear outlandish
clothes.

Gwynne Heap came onto the pier and Porter asked anxiously, "Will you see
if you can find Wayne? He should have met us."

"Right," the other assented.

Gwynne Heap walked to the end of the pier and mingled with the crowd. A
second after he disappeared, Ben Akbar shivered convulsively and Ali
knew what to expect.

"I know you long to feel the earth, for I have a similar yearning," he
said. "But wait until the time is here and the word is spoken. Do not
break and run as a half-trained baggage camel might. Do not shame me, my
brother."

Ben Akbar quieted, but the rest of the camels would not be soothed. They
surged forward, and there was no way to know which one broke the picket
line because all were lunging. Tether ropes slipped off either end of
the broken line as the herd ran forward.

Maintaining a firm grip on Ben Akbar's tether rope and keeping pace with
the _dalul_, Ali ran with them. He was not worried. This was no
reasonless stampede that might be expected to overrun whatever lay in
its path because fear-crazed camels would take no reckoning of
obstacles. These camels were running for the same reason that a young
horse runs when, after a winter spent in a confining stall, it is
finally freed in a green pasture. The people on the pier were in no
danger.

The spectators, however, thought otherwise. Most of them were thoroughly
familiar with horses and mules, but camels were as alien as dinosaurs.
Obviously, these berserk beasts were bent on destruction.

A man shouted in fear and the contagion spread. Those directly in the
path of the running herd surged away, crowding those on either side and
compounding the confusion. Some idiot, fortunately he was too excited to
take proper aim, drew and fired a revolver. Then Ali's eyes widened in
horror.

Through the gap left open when the crowd parted, the soldiers came on
the run. Their arms were ready. Their obvious intention was to avert
catastrophe by shooting the camels before they overran the crowd. Ali
heard Lieutenant Porter's outraged bellow.

"No! No, you fools!"

If they heard the command, the soldiers ignored it. Dispersing smartly,
those in front knelt and those behind were preparing to shoot over their
heads when a newcomer appeared.

Riding a sleek black horse which he handled so skillfully that somehow
it seemed an extension of himself, he came through the same gap the
soldiers had used. Unmistakably a professional soldier, his present
actions proclaimed that he was accustomed to emergencies. He wheeled his
horse in front of the troops and snapped an order.

Though they had ignored Lieutenant Porter, either because they hadn't
heard him or because Porter wore the Navy uniform, the soldiers gave
this officer instant obedience. Falling back to either side, they formed
a lane that let the running camels through but kept the spectators out.

Seconds after the run started, Ali and Ben Akbar left the pier and stood
on the soil of America.

Back on the pier, Lieutenant Porter heaved a mighty sigh of relief. He gave
formal command of the camel herd over to Major Henry Wayne, of the United
States Army. Arriving in the nick of time, Wayne's prompt and vigorous
action averted the massacre of these animals and insured establishment
of the most colorful and most unique method of transportation ever
attempted in the United States--the Camel Corps.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the very rear of the caravan, where he had been posted by Major Wayne
so that he might keep a watchful eye on all the other camels, a puzzled
and apprehensive Ali sat lightly in Ben Akbar's saddle. Watching the
caravan, only forty-one animals in all, imposed no strain. From Yusuf,
the belled leader who swung along as placidly as though the seven
hundred and fifty pounds he bore on his pack saddle had no weight at
all, to Iba, the little female who walked just ahead of Ben Akbar and
had been relieved of all pack-carrying because of anticipated
motherhood, none had any rebellious ideas or any inclination to do
anything except walk along until they came to their destination.

Ali saw them as one learns to see the very familiar. With no need for
the fussy solicitude and anxious fretting that marked the soldiers
assigned to duty with the camels, he would instantly discern any
departure from the normal and immediately thereafter he would be making
the proper countermove. Not required even to think about the camels,
Ali's thoughts were occupied by more troublesome matters.

In this America, to which camels had been brought with so much trouble
and at such vast expense, they had been granted a hostile reception and,
with very few exceptions, there had been nothing but hostility since.
Even those who came only to stare--and throngs of the curious appeared
wherever the camels were taken--did not like what they saw.

It was true that camels just naturally frightened horses and mules, and
thus were responsible for an unrehearsed but extremely lively rodeo
wherever they made an unexpected appearance. In an attempt to avoid such
incidents, a rider preceded the caravan and warned all that camels were
en route. But the rider never succeeded in warning everyone, and some of
those he did advise insisted on staying around with their horses or
mules, to see for themselves whether he spoke the truth.

Ali managed a flitting grin as he thought of an incident that had
followed the unloading. The excited camels, savoring their first happy
taste of land after such a long time at sea, were permitted to race
about and frolic as they pleased until they tired themselves out and
could again be herded. Then they were taken to a corral built especially
for them.

The corral was large enough, and as an enclosure for horses or mules it
would have been satisfactory enough. In this land, however, conventional
building materials were both scarce and expensive. Since prickly-pear
cactus was abundant, the builders had used it to construct their fence.
Far from being repelled by such a thorny barrier, the camels happily ate
it!

Regardless of other considerations, the very fact that they could eat
such fodder was another indication that they were well adapted to this
American Southwest. Ali already knew that, although he might encounter
problems different from any previously experienced, there'd be none
incapable of solution. Nor was there anything horses and mules could do
that camels couldn't do better. A good pack camel was capable of bearing
five or six times as much as the best pack horse or mule, and, day for
day, he'd carry it farther. He would keep on going, at the same steady
pace, past dry water holes or across drought-shriveled areas where lack
of water would drive a horse or mule to madness. Although it was often
necessary to carry hay and grain for other beasts of burden, a camel
would always live off the country.

These camels would do all anyone expected from them and then surpass
expectations, but Ali sighed dolefully as he thought of what had been and
what was. Even Major Wayne had been unable to counteract a spontaneous
public rejection of these beasts from a far land. Accosted by skeptics
who doubted a camel's ability to pack anything at all, Wayne had bales
of hay packed on a kneeling camel. The enormous load totaled more than
twelve hundred pounds, but, with no hesitation and no visible strain,
the camel rose and walked away with the load when ordered to do so.

Compared with the pack animals they knew, it was an incredible feat.
But, although they themselves were eyewitnesses, the onlookers seemed to
regard what they had seen as the trick of some circus master. Seeing,
they neither accepted nor approved.

The real trouble, Ali thought sadly, was nothing that had yet appeared
or would appear on the surface. Although this country was markedly
similar to his own native land, there were fundamental differences that
had nothing to do with topography. They lay in the hearts and traditions
of people who, for past generations, had looked to the horse, the mule
and the ox for help in building up their land.

With very few exceptions, even the soldiers assigned to the Camel Corps
resented their new duties. For the most part, they were former mule
skinners who had been chosen because of their outstanding ability to
handle mules. Almost to a man, they yearned to be rid of camels and back
with their mules. Only Major Wayne and a very few others had complete
confidence in the proposed Camel Corps. Fortunately, some of these were
so influential that they must be heard.

Presently, Ali caught his first glimpse of Camp Verde, the military post
where the camels were to be held until a major expedition was organized.
His heart grew lighter and his troubles less.

Obviously, Camp Verde had been planned by someone who knew camels.
Glancing briefly at a cluster of adobe buildings, Ali centered intent
scrutiny on the khan, or camel corral. Constructed of stone, wood and
timber, it was patterned after the time-tested khans of Ali's native
country. Rectangular, the north wall angled outward. The gate was in
this wall and a house for the chief camel handler stood beside the gate.
Spacious enough for five times as many camels, the corral differed in a
notable respect from most khans Ali had seen. It was sparkling clean.

A few camels, some with pack and some with riding saddles, stood here
and there about the camp and more were visible in the khan. Evidently
this was the herd Mimico had mentioned, the thirty-three previously
imported. The new arrivals were halted, stripped of their burdens and
herded into the khan.

With an affectionate parting slap for Ben Akbar, Ali turned to face a
strange camel handler. Arrived with the first camels and presently
serving as interpreter, he already had Mimico and the six other handlers
in tow.

"You are to come with me," he announced.

He escorted the newcomers to a building and lined them up before a desk,
behind which sat a bored-looking clerk. The clerk inscribed each man's
name in his records while the interpreter told each about the wages he
would receive. Ali, last in line, presently faced the clerk.

"You are to be paid twenty dollars a month and receive full rations,"
the interpreter said.

Without looking up, the clerk asked, "Name?"

"Hadji Ali," Ali answered.

"What?" the clerk asked.

"Hadji Ali," Ali repeated.

The clerk wrote with his goose quill, and, still without looking up, he
flipped the book around for Ali's inspection. Unable to read or write,
but with no intention of admitting that while the interpreter might
overhear, Ali scanned his written name.

"Right?" the clerk asked.

Ali nodded approval. Thus did Hadji Ali cease to be. From that moment,
not only as long as he lived but as history would record him after his
death, Ali would be known by the name the clerk had written.

It was _Hi Jolly_.



9. Lieutenant Beale


Except for the camels, that never seemed to be affected by any
weather, everything at Camp Verde had sought the nearest shade. It was
hot, Ali admitted to himself. The Syrian sun at its fiercest was not
more savage than this blazing sun of Texas. But it was not unendurable.

Since for the present there was no reason to endure it, Ali and Mimico
sat cross-legged in the shade of the camel khan. Wan and weak, Mimico
was still recovering from some devastating malady that had almost cost
his life. For an interval neither spoke. Then Mimico broke the silence.

"I came to this thrice-accursed camp while winter was still with us," he
growled. "I have been here since, doing the work of a stable boy and as
a stable boy regarded. All this I endured without complaint--"

Ali smothered a quick grin. Throughout a very monotonous period of doing
nothing worthwhile, as they waited for somebody to decide what should be
done, no voice had declared more loudly or more frequently than Mimico's
that camels and camel men belonged out on the trails. They should not be
restricted to a rest home for obsolete Pashas--Mimico's personal title
for Camp Verde--who could do nothing except talk because they had grown
too old or too fat to ride.

Mimico saw the grin and lapsed into a sulky silence. Then he resumed,
amending his narrative to conform with truth.

"All this I endured with little complaint, for I knew that it was a
passing thing. Sooner or later, there would be work for men, and men
would be needed. Now that the opportunity is here--"

Mimico's voice trailed off into silence, and he gazed moodily at the
sun-shriveled horizon. Ali's heart went out to his friend.

Camp Verde had indeed proved dull. Ali would have taken Ben Akbar and
gone elsewhere weeks ago, except that he, too, foresaw a need for both
camels and camel men. Now that time was not only at hand, but it
promised to be the most exciting caravan of Ali's life.

A full-scale expedition was to be commanded by a Lieutenant Beale, an
officer Ali had not met. The object was to survey a wagon road.
According to rumor, a great deal of the proposed route lay through
wilderness, of which none was well-known and much was unknown. There was
more than a fair chance of encountering Indians, America's own savage
tribesmen!

Most important and most exciting, the expedition was to provide a major
test for the camels. Twenty-five were to go along, with Ali as a sort of
overseer-teacher. Besides handling the camels, he was to instruct others
in their proper handling.

Ali could well understand his friend's disappointment. Mimico, who
otherwise would have accompanied the expedition, had been declared
physically unfit by the post surgeon and ordered to remain at Camp
Verde.

Ali offered such comfort as he could. "It is the will of Allah."

"Save your pious lectures for fledglings who may be impressed!" Mimico
snapped. "If the will of Allah were truly what men proclaim it to be,
you would have been shriveled by His wrath on a certain night when you
left Mecca in a very great hurry."

Ali said nothing. Gray November skies had prevailed when he joined the
company on the _Supply_ and had his first meeting with Mimico. This was
June in a new land, and never once had Mimico even intimated that he knew
of the incident in Mecca. Mentioning it now was a breach of etiquette,
but Ali did not forget that Mimico was both sick and heartbroken.

After a moment, "Forgive me, my friend!" Mimico implored. "I shall not
make my own hurt less painful by inflicting hurt upon you!"

Ali said, "It is forgotten."

"I care not what you or anyone else did in Mecca," Mimico went on. "None
of us may truly know what lies beyond this mortal life until we have
taken leave of it and may find out for ourselves. Getting back to
earthly matters, which are the only ones I admit to understanding, I
hear the journey will be long."

"I have heard the same," Ali declared. "But the longer it is, the
better. I do not like this place."

Mimico said fervently, "Nor do I! Aside from being wearisome, it has
been most absurd. I wonder at the Amirs who have made it so."

Ali told himself that that was also true. Major Wayne, in command at
Camp Verde, was a thoroughly competent officer who maintained a smoothly
running organization when left alone. But various officers who ranked
Wayne, of whom few had any real knowledge of camels but all cherished
pet theories, had visited from time to time and insisted on trying
their ideas.

One had convinced himself--and submitted an official report that he hoped
would convince others--that camels were greatly inferior to horses. He
arrived at such a conclusion by arranging a race, a quarter-mile sprint,
between a racehorse and a riding camel. The horse finished before the
camel was fairly started, it is true, but the officer in question refused
to recognize the sound fact that quarter-mile sprints would not be
especially valuable to the proposed Camel Corps. Nor could he be convinced
that, although a good horse may outdistance a camel in the first half day
of travel, the camel will overtake and pass the horse before night.
Furthermore, the camel will be fresh for the next day's start and will be
going on long after the horse is worn out.

Another officer had proved conclusively that, due to peculiarities of
the terrain, camels would be worse than useless in the Southwest because
they quickly became sore-footed. This officer derived such an opinion by
requisitioning six camels that hadn't been outside the khan for six
weeks, having them packed and sending them off on a fifty-mile trip. The
camels went lame solely because they had had no trail work to harden
their feet.

In a similar fashion, it had been demonstrated that the gait of a riding
camel is so stiff and jarring that Americans couldn't possibly get used
to it; that camels are subject to a bewildering variety of ailments;
that they are too vicious to be practical, and that there were a few
dozen other reasons why the whole project couldn't possibly work and the
camels had better be disposed of right now! Throughout, those who had
originally had faith in a camel corps persisted in battling all skeptics
and going ahead.

At long last, this proper expedition was organized and a true test was
at hand. What happened afterward, Ali told himself, depended in great
measure on Lieutenant Beale. If he was one of those officers whose every
thought is already written in the Manual of Regulations--Ali had seen
for himself that the American Army has a full quota of such--his report
might very well doom future expeditions. If Beale was able to think for
himself, if he was capable of honest analysis and could adapt to new
situations, it was wholly possible that his favorable report would
remove all obstacles and be the making of the Camel Corps.

Mimico asked wistfully, "What think you of the savage tribesmen, whose
country you are to enter?"

"I have never met them," Ali answered seriously. "But I have met and
fought the Druse, and I know well the bandits of the caravan routes.
It is difficult to suppose that these savages are more fierce."

"Difficult indeed," Mimico said. "I am most envious, Ali."

Ali said, "There will be a chance for you."

"There is already a chance for you," Mimico pointed out, "and it is
better to have one honey cake in the hand than to yearn for twenty and
have none. It is said that you will enter desert country."

"I am no stranger to the desert," Ali said.

Mimico asked, "Have you no fears at all?"

"Only fools go without fear," said Ali. "To fear the unknown is to be
prepared for it."

"Some have so much fear that they refuse even to be prepared," Mimico
grunted. He named various other camel drivers who found the existence of
Camp Verde ideal, since they had the finest of care and nothing to do.
Asked to accompany the expedition and honestly informed of its nature
and probable dangers, they had promptly terminated their employment and
requested passage back to their native land.

When Mimico finished his appraisal of this worthless lot, Ali said
simply, "They are Egyptians."

"They are cowards," Mimico amended. "I have known many old women with
more courage. When does the leader of this expedition arrive, Ali?"

"I do not know the day, but it will be soon. I have been asked to be
present at all times, for this man is expected to tarry only long enough
to choose his camels."

Mimico said, "I wish you luck, Ali."

"And may fortune attend you," Ali responded.

Halfway across the camel khan, Ali stood grimly unmoving and silently
awaited that which Allah had ordained. At any rate, none but Allah could
now direct the tide of destiny, for Ali himself had tried.

A former Navy officer whose title derived from that service, and not now
attached to the military, Lieutenant Beale had arrived late yesterday
afternoon. Ali knew that because he had remained at a respectful distance
and witnessed the arrival. It was what he had expected; camel drivers
do not participate in formal welcomes for caravan masters.

Beale was accompanied by two companions, men so young that they were
hardly more than boys, and all were greeted by and escorted to the house
of Major Wayne. Ali drew his rations and retired to his own house, a
lean-to behind the camel khan. Two hours ago, while the light of a new
day was only a dim promise in the sky, he had been routed out and told
to make ready.

Shortly thereafter, he met Lieutenant Beale. Again skipping formality,
which did not bother Ali, the introduction consisted of a good look at
his future chief. Ali liked what he saw.

Edward Beale looked older than his mid-thirties, but it was a look that
experience alone had imparted. A trained surveyor and veteran of numerous
excursions into the wilderness, Kit Carson was one of his many friends.
Beale's knowledge of dangerous situations resulted from facing danger and
finding his own way out. One of the original few who had conceived the
idea of a Camel Corps and then worked tirelessly for it, Beale was a
demanding taskmaster, with a touch of the martinet. However, Ali had
seen enough men to know Beale as very much of a man.

The sun was just rising as Ali followed Major Wayne's party to the khan,
so Lieutenant Beale might select the animals he wanted. He rose
considerably in Ali's opinion when his first choice was Old Mohamet, the
wisest and best baggage camel in the herd. Beale followed with Gusuf
and, without a single error selected twenty-four of the best animals in
the herd. Finally, he fixed his eyes on Ben Akbar.

"That's as fine a _dalul_ as I've seen," he remarked. "We'll take him."

Ali nodded, not even slightly surprised. Could anyone who chose camels
with such a discerning eye fail to choose Ben Akbar? The expedition
certainly had the right commander.

Lieutenant Beale looked from Ben Akbar to Sied, an all-white animal
previously chosen and, next to Ben Akbar, the best _dalul_ in the herd.
A soldier came to advise Major Wayne that he was wanted elsewhere and
the commanding officer of Camp Verde left. Lieutenant Beale, his young
companions and Ali were left alone in the khan.

After studying Sied thoroughly, a time-consuming process if correctly
done, Lieutenant Beale turned to subject Ben Akbar to the same intense
scrutiny. Ali discarded all doubts he might still have concerning Beale.
Anyone could look at a camel, but few had the knack of looking, seeing
and understanding.

Ali had known cameleers of great experience who would never bother with
such preliminaries. Faced with two apparently equal _dalul_, they would
accept either, after assuring themselves that both were good. But the
best of the camel men never chose lightly. Among them, an elite few were
entirely willing to spend as much time as necessary to study every beast
in a herd, so that they might finally select the one best fitted to
their requirements.

Finally, Beale gestured toward Ben Akbar and turned to his companions.
"That red Nomanieh dromedary is superb," he said. "I want a closer
look."

He started toward Ben Akbar, who was standing quietly near the far wall
of the khan. Ali, who had understood none of the conversation but who
knew all too clearly what Beale's gesture indicated, felt his heart
catch in his throat.

He whirled toward the gate, and eyes already worried became desperate
when there was no evidence of Major Wayne. Ali turned back to Lieutenant
Beale, already a third of the way across the khan, and he shivered in
terrible indecision. A camel driver did not presume to give orders to
his leader!

The two young men seemed to have forgotten Ali and kept fascinated eyes
on Lieutenant Beale. Ali ran forward. A camel driver did not command his
chief, but neither did he let him go to certain injury and possible
death.

Running up behind the officer, Ali grasped his arm. Lieutenant Beale
stopped and swung about, but his eyes were questioning rather than
angry, and he arched interrogatory brows.

"Well, boy?" he asked.

Ali remained speechless. Though he could have voiced a warning in Syrian
or any of a dozen Arabic dialects, he did not know how to speak in a
tongue Beale might understand. Presently, and happily, he found the
perfect solution in one of the bits of English he had mastered but sadly
misinterpreted.

The fists of a constantly brawling soldier had hammered out an unbroken
string of victories. As a result, his companions trod with appropriate
wariness and offered proper respect. Obviously, therefore, the name
bestowed on their pugnacious brother-in-arms indicated that which was
better left alone. Ali gestured toward Ben Akbar.

"Sad Sam," he pronounced.

"What?" Lieutenant Beale's quizzical frown became an engaging grin.

"Sad Sam," Ali repeated.

Lieutenant Beale turned to glance at Ben Akbar. "Sad Sam, eh? He does
look a bit melancholy at that. I'll see if I can make him smile."

Pulling away from Ali, he resumed walking toward Ben Akbar. Ali waited
in his tracks, unable to think of anything else he might do. Lieutenant
Beale passed Ben Akbar's point of no return, and only Allah could help
now.

Then, even as Ali drew each quick breath with a dreadful certainty that
it must mark Ben Akbar's quick lunge, the _dalul_ stepped forward. He
thrust his head over Lieutenant Beale's shoulder and waited in shivering
ecstasy for his neck to be scratched.

Ali caught his breath and the look in his eyes was one of profound
respect. This man was indeed to command. There would be no failure.

Major Wayne shouted suddenly, "Ned! Watch yourself!"

Still scratching Ben Akbar's neck, Lieutenant Beale glanced toward the
returning Major. "What's up?"

"That's a killer dromedary. Didn't anybody warn you?"

"Somebody tried but I guess I didn't understand." The look Lieutenant
Beale gave Ali meant that one man recognized another. "I won't be so
stupid again," Lieutenant Beale promised.



10. The Expedition


Ali awakened in the dim light of very early morning. For a startled
moment, he reverted to old habit and lay perfectly still, for he was not
at once sure as to what lay about him. Then came comprehension.

The many nights he had slept in his lean-to shelter behind the camel
khan marked the longest uninterrupted period of his life ever spent in
any one house. He had become accustomed to it and was momentarily
bewildered to awake in unfamiliar surroundings. Then the days at Camp
Verde seemed to fade away and it was as though he had never slept
anywhere except on bare earth, with the sky his only roof. The fact
that he was wrapped in a blanket rather than his burnous was the only
difference between this and the life he had always led.

Ali preferred the burnous, but his was becoming tattered and a new
burnous seemed to be almost the only article one could not hope to find
in the rich markets of vast America. Putting the garment away against
some vague future when nothing else would serve, Ali had taken the first
step toward becoming an American by accepting American clothes.

He raised on one elbow and looked toward the corral. All was peaceful
there, so he settled back down. His plan had worked.

The camels had not had enough trail work to toughen their feet, and the
journey from Camp Verde to the expedition's base camp near San Antonio
had necessarily been a slow one. Arriving with some sore-footed camels,
in spite of a leisurely pace, the horses and mules that were also to be
part of the expedition promptly took the usual violent exception to
these trespassers from a far land.

In any other circumstances, Ali could have corrected all trouble simply by
going on with his camels. In this instance, it was not only impossible to
go on, but the camels must travel with the rest of the expedition's
livestock for many days and miles and a full-scale rodeo every day and
every mile was not the way to assure success. Since a definite and final
settlement was obviously indispensable, Ali requested and received
Lieutenant Beale's permission to put the camels in the same corral
with the horses and mules.

The immediate result was pandemonium. Though the camels again refused to
give way to excitement, just because everything about them was hysterical,
and remained serene, the horses and mules did everything except tear the
corral apart. Since no flesh and blood could maintain such a pace,
eventually they had to quiet down because they were too tired to do
anything else. Now, although the camels formed their own group and stood
apart from the rest, all was still peaceful. East and West had finally
met, and, even though neither considered the other socially acceptable,
at least they had become acquainted. What might have been a major
problem was already solved.

Some distance away from the corral, a herd of more than three hundred
sheep were bedded under the watchful eye of a Mexican herder and his
dog. The sheep were also to go with the expedition, Ali neither knew nor
cared why. There were to be eight big freight wagons, each drawn by six
mules, and two smaller wagons for personal effects and Lieutenant
Beale's engineering equipment. There was a total of fifty-six men, most
of them soldiers who had discarded conventional uniforms in favor of
more practical buckskin garb. There was a miscellany of livestock, to
serve wherever extra animals were needed.

Some of the soldiers were to help with the camels. Ali knew nothing
about any of them except that they knew nothing about camels. Some, as
usual, resented such duty but, for once, resentment of Ali and his
charges posed no problem. Though relations were on a congenial and
informal basis, nobody had the faintest doubt but that Lieutenant Beale
commanded.

Foremost among the enthusiastic advocates of the proposed Camel Corps,
Beale had taken a strong liking to Sied, the white _dalul_, and Ali had
already given him a few riding lessons. In addition, whenever he could
spare the time, Beale was sitting at Ali's feet and doing his best to
learn Syrian, so that he might address the camels in a tongue with which
they were already familiar.

Known as a fair-minded man, Beale also had a reputation for meting out
deserved punishment with anything except kid gloves. Thus there was
small probability that smoldering resentment would be expressed in
hostile action, as had been the case at Camp Verde. One of the camels,
that had somehow escaped from the khan and strayed, died shortly after
she was recovered. Subsequent examination disclosed that she had been
hit on the neck with sufficient force to fracture the bones. Nobody ever
found out who did it.

Presently, Ali got up and carefully folded his blanket. He laid it
beside the spare clothing and few personal articles that belonged to him
and wrapped all in a square of canvas. Though he hadn't the least
trouble carrying all his worldly goods in one hand, it never even
occurred to Ali that he lacked anything. On those rare occasions when he
gave the matter any thought, the contents of his bundle were wealth
indeed compared with what he'd had on the night he rode Ben Akbar away
from Al Misri's camp.

Leaving the bundle where it lay, Ali devoted himself to the first solemn
duty of every morning. He walked toward the corral. Seeing him, Ben
Akbar detached himself from the little herd of camels and came to the
fence. Ali dug in his pocket for a lump of sugar, a delicacy that only
the wealthy could enjoy elsewhere but that was available to even the
poorest in America. Ben Akbar licked it from the palm of his hand and
made gusty smacking noises as he chewed. Ali scratched the big _dalul's_
neck.

"We are on the way," he murmured. "The camp of idleness lies behind, and
once more the caravan routes are ahead. It is well."

Only the cook, a sour individual who must necessarily be astir long
before anyone else if breakfast was to be eaten in time for an early
start, had been up before Ali. He greeted the young camel driver with a
grunt, but heaped a plate with food and filled a mug with coffee. Ali
had finished his breakfast when the rest of the camp began to stir.

Returning to the corral, Ali looked past Ben Akbar to the remaining
camels. A troubled frown creased his brow.

The horses and mules were none of his responsibility, for which he was
duly thankful. The camels were, and Ali's frown deepened as the problem
he must solve assumed its correct proportions. On the trip from Camp
Verde, the camels had carried little except their bells, harness and a
few gay trappings to add color. In spite of that, and a leisurely pace,
some had come in sore-footed.

Because Lieutenant Beale was determined to forestall any possible
accusations to the effect that there had been no fair test, every camel
was to carry a full load from this camp on. Though all were in superb
condition in every respect save one, that single lack could be serious
and perhaps disastrous. Since their feet were still soft, sore-footed
camels were not only to be expected but were practically inevitable.
Until such time as they were again trail-hardened, camels that might
otherwise have left a favorable impression on a highly-skeptical public
would make a dismal showing indeed.

Ali shrugged. There was nothing for it except go on, hope for the best
and trust Lieutenant Beale.

Entering the corral, Ali saddled and bridled Ben Akbar and tied him to
the top rail. It would help nothing if some soldier who decided he could
handle Ben Akbar as he might a fractious mule were trampled and mauled
for his pains.

Presently the soldiers came. All had considerable experience in
conventional Army transport and all would have known exactly what to
do if they were about to deal with conventional beasts of burden. As it
was, none had the vaguest notion of the correct procedure with camels,
and their lack of knowledge was expressed in a lack of confidence. They
were awkward and self-conscious, and, at the same time, they were trying
to conceal their uncertainty beneath a mask of indifference.

"Here we are, pal," the leader informed Ali. "What's next?"

Ali grinned, understanding nothing but having been previously informed
that his helpers would need instruction. Before anything else, he pointed
to Ben Akbar. As Lieutenant Beale had instructed, he said, "Bad one. Stay
away."

The soldiers regarded Ben Akbar with respect plus challenging interest.
All had met the bad ones and none had stayed away, but they had been
handling beasts with which they were familiar. This time, at least until
they had a better idea of what they were doing, it might be well to take
this camel driver's advice. They turned expectantly back to him.

Ali saddled Mohamet, seeming to do so with a few deft motions, but years
of experience and great skill were his invisible helpers. None knew
better than he that a camel must be saddled with absolute perfection. If
anything less, a slipping saddle will be certain a chafe a tender hump.
It was an unwise practice, even if one had no regard for the animal
itself; sore-backed camels cannot carry packs.

When Ali finished, each soldier selected a saddle and set about to
practice the lesson he had just learned. Busy with a second camel, Ali
pivoted when the air was split with a thunderous, "You ornery,
slab-sided, no good, devil-begotten son of nothing!"

One of the aspiring cameleers was reeling back with both hands over his
eyes. The camel he had been trying to saddle was standing quietly,
apparently interested in nothing but a dreamy contemplation of the
horizon. The soldier wiped his eyes.

"The critter spit at me!" he ejaculated. Again, and as though he didn't
quite believe, "The critter _spit_ at me, and got me square in the
eyes!"

Ali went patiently to the aid of the agitated soldier. If he had known
how, he would have explained that improperly handled camels will not
only spit, but are uncannily accurate. Wilder beasts than these would
bite.

Two hours later, an anxious Lieutenant Beale entered the corral. "How's
it going?" he queried.

Ali indicated the few saddled camels that were tied to the rail and the
many unsaddled ones that were presently dodging about the corral and
rather deftly eluding amateur packers. It would be necessary to catch
every one. Since nobody except Ali had yet succeeded in bringing a camel
and a camel saddle together, it followed that Ali would have to saddle
every one after he caught it.

Lieutenant Beale nodded and left.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back pillowed against a boulder, Ali sprawled in the warm sun and
watched the camels browse. Far more than a pleasant sight, he thought,
it was a vision that could not fail to lift the heart of anyone not too
dull to be inspired. For to see the camels as they were--and where they
were--meant that a great victory was won.

It was no small victory.

The camels had arrived at the expedition's base camp on the twenty-first
of June. Departure was scheduled for the next morning. But with camels
already driven wild by inexperienced help and rapidly getting wilder,
they hadn't even succeeded in saddling all of them on that day or for
several days thereafter.

Not until June the twenty-fifth were they finally under way, and Ali could
not recall a sorrier caravan. The soldiers had acquired just enough skill
so they could put a pack on a camel and have some assurance that it
wouldn't fall off. In accordance with Lieutenant Beale's wish for a
thorough test, the minimum load for any baggage animal was seven hundred
pounds. That was far more than should have been carried by animals whose
exercise in recent months had consisted of shuffling about the khan.

There were immediate complications. Freight wagons drawn by six mules,
conveyances not noted for speed, whizzed past sore-footed and overloaded
camels and seemed swift in comparison. To the unrestrained hilarity of
those who came to watch--and presently of the country at large when news
sources got hold of the story--the camels functioned in every way except
efficiently. Far from reaching the Colorado River at the California
border, the end of the survey, it became increasingly apparent that
Beale and his camels would be fortunate indeed if they were trapped in
the suburbs of a growing San Antonio.

Then the outlook changed.

Though it did not happen overnight, eventually the camels became
trail-hardened. Weary and sore beasts that had plodded into camp hours
after the mule wagons were already there during the first harassed days
began arriving at the next night's camp hours before the wagons were
even sighted. Two camels so ill that they were abandoned on the trail,
rejoined the caravan, apparently as well as ever, a few days
afterwards.

Baggage camels that staggered under over-heavy loads on the day of
departure, now bore equally-heavy burdens without the least effort. They
proved as indifferent to drenching rains as they had been to blazing
sun. They not only ate but thrived on any forage they found; the
expedition's store of grain never had to feed starving camels.

Soldiers who hadn't known the first thing of camel transport had
acquired a liberal education. Most had come to like these strange
beasts. Some turncoats had even been heard to declare that camels were
far better than mules in any way anyone might compare the two species.

Probably the outstanding triumph belonged to Lieutenant Beale. Growing
ever fonder of Sied, Beale had ridden the white _dalul_ at every
opportunity and even Ali admitted that he had become a very skilful
rider. Near Albuquerque, Beale had news that a friend, Colonel Loring,
was in the vicinity.

Mounting Sied, Lieutenant Beale set out to find his friend. The camel,
whose only nourishment since leaving San Antonio had consisted of
whatever forage the trail offered, not only carried his rider to Colonel
Loring, but when Loring accepted an invitation to visit the expedition's
camp, outdistanced the grain-fed horses of the colonel and his men on
the return trip.

All was well, Ali thought dreamily, and may Allah have mercy on whoever
was unable to see sublime beauty in the camels as they were and where
they were. For they were still fat and healthy and they were at Fort
Defiance. The pedestrian and least interesting part of the journey was
behind. Fort Defiance was a true frontier post. Unless they turned back,
which was unthinkable, they must go ahead.

And ahead lay the unknown.



11. The Wilderness


The trail was rough, but Ben Akbar's saddle remained a veritable bed
of feathers as the big _dalul_ continued at the same swift trot he had
started two hours ago. Ali turned in the saddle to look behind him.

There was nothing there, but neither was there anything ahead except the
same boulder-strewn, scrub-grown, sun-baked land that he saw when he
glanced around. The place had no visible attractions, but it did
furnish reason anew to marvel at the vastness of America. Ali knew some
self-contained nations, complete from Pasha to slaves, that were not as
large as this forbidding corner of America wherein the entire expedition
was presently lost.

Never jarring his rider, Ben Akbar continued without a noticeable
variation in gait. Ali turned back to face the west.

The anxiety that clouded his eyes deepened, but it was not for himself
that he worried. As far as he personally was concerned, by far the
happiest days of his life began when the expedition left Zuni, west of
Fort Defiance and the last settlement this side of California, on the
thirty-first of August. That day, a lifelong dream finally came true.

Illiterate, Ali had developed skills vital to those who may never consult
written records. When necessary to do so, he had only to close his eyes
and see in memory a map of all the caravan routes he'd ever traveled. It
was invariably in proper detail--the shortest route was never omitted and
the longest was never extended beyond correct proportions. Every mile
of every trail was again as it had been when Ali went that way with
the camels.

For various reasons, some of those journeys had been very exciting. But
this promised far more than any other trail Ali had traveled.

Wild and dangerous though they had been, and some still were, the camel
trails of Ali's native country were almost as ancient as the land itself.
Caravans had certainly been traversing them since recorded history, and
fable told of camels on the march long before any recording. Thus there
had never been even a faint possibility of doing anything that had not
already been done over and over, or of going anywhere not already visited
by multitudes.

This route must forever stand apart. Even though people had come this
way, with very few exceptions, they were wild as the wild beasts that
slunk from their path. Certainly there had never been a caravan, and for
that reason alone there must be the challenge of the mysterious and
unknown. In addition, Ali found something else he'd never known before.

Here were no petty Amirs, with an endless array of petty decrees.
Confining Camp Verde was far behind; there wasn't even a camel khan.
Space was limitless, and freedom was restricted only by a need for
caution. Obviously, when at last one had all the room he needed for
growing and roaming, he would not do a great deal of either if he fell
prey to either the savages or the elements.

Ali knew that even this parched and barren country was not repulsive to
his eyes. He must consider it forbidding, or at least undesirable,
because of its current threat to the expedition.

Fighting a sudden powerful notion that he had missed something and had
better turn around again, Ali looked steadfastly ahead. He hadn't missed
anything and knew it, but he would anxiously grasp any straw as he neared
the place where he must turn about and hope faded.

Largely because, in Ali's eyes, Lieutenant Beale's stature had long since
exceeded that of any other man and was rapidly nearing heroic proportions,
Ali could not blame his leader for the present dilemma. The signs had been
present; any man who had good camels should think seriously as to the
wisdom of bringing horses and mules too into a land where water was
uncertain.

Ali was unable to blame his leader for anything, and, anyhow, the guide
was directly at fault. After leading the entire expedition astray--as
yet nobody knew how far--the guide offered only a sheepish grin as an
excuse when he finally admitted choosing the wrong landmarks. He'd
risked everyone's life but he'd never know, Ali thought, how close he'd
come to paying for his carelessness with his own life. Ali had been
watching Lieutenant Beale's eyes when the guide confessed his error. The
guide had been looking at the ground.

Except for the strict rations allotted each man, they had run out of
water shortly afterwards. The camels were in no trouble, but the horses
and mules were already frantic with thirst. Had Ali been in command, he
would have shot the horses and mules and gone on with camels only. But
Ali was not in command, and because Lieutenant Beale wished to find
water for his suffering beasts, Ali could not wish otherwise. Even
though they still had rations, some of the expedition's men were already
apprehensive.

The sun was almost at that point where Ali must turn Ben Akbar and go
back. His heart grew heavier as it became increasingly evident that he
would have no news of water. Such failure was all the more galling
because he never doubted but that he'd been close to success.

There was no use in comparing this with his own country, since this
specific problem could never arise there. All the water holes were
known. A thirsty traveler who found one dry, simply went on toward the
next one. If he got there, he drank. If he did not, he died. However, it
was reasonable to suppose that some fundamental rules applied in
America, even as they did throughout the rest of the world.

Where there was water, there should be green foliage. Of course, he must
not expect to find familiar date palms. There must be some other trees
indigenous to this parched area, and any that received water would be
green, and any color at all in such drab surroundings would glow like a
candle at midnight.

Reaching the place where he had been ordered to turn around, a reluctant
Ali halted Ben Akbar. For a moment he sat the saddle, searching
everything still ahead and hoping desperately to see a splash of green
that must mark an oasis. He saw only more desert. The last feeble spark
of hope almost flickered out.

Then, suddenly, it flared. Though Lieutenant Beale had told him when he
must return, he had not said that Ali must come back by the same route.
Some distance to the south was a series of rocky ridges from whose crests
it would surely be possible to see much new country. Ali swung south.

With a much clearer understanding of the expedition's true purpose, Ali
lauded the wisdom that had prompted it. If some of this Southwest was
bleak and forbidding, some was as fine and rich as anything Ali had ever
seen. Villages and even cities might thrive here and there would still
be ample grazing for flocks and herds.

Almost without exception, however, the few white men who had dared enter
the region cared for nothing except high adventure and possible riches,
with high adventure accorded a definite priority. Far from taming the
wilderness, they much preferred it untamed. Their opposites, who would
bring settlement and civilization, must first be provided with some
means of access. Though the wild men could live by their rifles and from
their saddlebags, families could not.

Following the 35th parallel, except wherever circumstance, such as
terrain unsuited for wagons, made it wise to deviate from that line,
the expedition was to lay out a wagon road between Fort Defiance and
the California border. Besides opening new country, the road would
close the final gap in a transcontinental highway.

Ali, who knew something about roads, had only unstinted admiration for
the course so far. That camels could travel it was not open to question,
for camels were breaking the trail. Lieutenant Beale, however, was
choosing the route so carefully and with such skill that the heaviest
and clumsiest wagons could hereafter follow where the camels led.

It was an admirable road, and the fact that the entire expedition was
lost at the moment would be of no consequence if it were not for lack
of water. Even that would be no more than a minor annoyance, except
that horses and mules must drink or find it impossible to go on.

Ali's hopes, that had burned brightly when he turned south to swing
along these ridges, flickered dimly as time passed and no oasis was
sighted. The appointed rendezvous for this evening's camp--at least it
would be a rendezvous if the struggling mule teams were able to come so
far--was only a few miles ahead and night would fall soon. Ali put Ben
Akbar to a fast lope.

Suddenly he wheeled and rode back. He'd seen something--or thought he
had--for it was so faintly traced that he could not be sure. It was
worth a second look. Returning to the place where something had caught
his eye, Ali halted Ben Akbar, dismounted and knelt to study the ground.

He had seen something, but it was not to be wondered that he had almost
passed without seeing it. A small, unshod horse, traveling at a fast
trot, had passed this way within the hour and gone directly southeast.
Ali frowned thoughtfully.

Every one of the expedition's horses was shod and none had so small a
hoof. This animal was either separated from its companions and trying
to find them, or it carried a rider. Wandering horses do not travel
fast and straight.

Ali rose and remounted Ben Akbar. Since the horse did not belong to
the expedition, obviously it was the property of someone else. The
only human inhabitants of this forsaken waste were Indians. Though
he had seen nothing except the track of one horse, Ali knew the Druse
and the brigands of the caravan routes too well, and had fought them
too often, to shrug it off as meaningless. One Druse going somewhere
in a hurry could either be running from enemies or going to join some
companions bent on raiding.

Since there was no indication of pursuit, obviously the Indian was not
fleeing. But in Ali's opinion and experience, there was every reason to
believe that any group of brigands anywhere would sack the expedition
if they could.

So a group of bandits were assembling for the purpose of attacking the
expedition. Or, Ali admitted, they were not assembling. He was certain
only that there was at least one horse in the area and equally certain
that there was water not too far away. The whole thing should properly
be reported to Lieutenant Beale, but Ali remained indecisive.

If Beale knew what Ali knew, he would most certainly insist on a personal
investigation at the earliest moment. Never doubting that his chief was a
renowned and experienced warrior, Beale was also one to rush in where
anything else feared to tread. Should one with so many distressing problems
already on his mind be further burdened? Finally, and conclusively, the
expedition might do very well without Ali. It couldn't possibly succeed
without Lieutenant Beale. Therefore, who should logically run the risk?
There was only one choice.

Ben Akbar trotted into camp where the remaining camels were contentedly
feeding on greasewood. Sied was among them. Lieutenant Beale, who had
also scouted for water, must have returned. He proved to be one of the
little group who stood watching the agonized approach of the mules.
Nobody had found water; if they had, they would not appear so downcast.

Dismounting, Ali removed Ben Akbar's trappings and the big _dalul_
joined the feeding herd. Ali turned toward the oncoming wagons.

Heads bent, tongues lolling, the mules swayed in their traces and moved
at a slow crawl. When the wagons finally drew up, the mules remained as
they were when halted and did not so much as glance to one side or the
other, even when stripped of their harnesses.

His mules unharnessed, but so nearly finished that they retained their
team positions, the first driver went to his wagon and lifted down the
water keg. He turned to Lieutenant Beale and spoke in a husky whisper,
"Nary a drop left. Must of sprung a leak and--"

The mules came alert with a frantic rush and were upon him in a wild
scramble. Surrounding the driver, their eager grunts and harsh gasping
seemed the voice of madness itself as they fought each other for the
privilege of licking the dry keg's bung hole. Unable to look, the
soldiers turned away. Lieutenant Beale remained the leader.

"We can't move from here without water," he said quietly. "We'll try
again tomorrow."

Ali offered, "I'll go again at dawn."

Beale continued to speak softly. "Any preferred direction?"

Ali gestured toward the horse track and Lieutenant Beale nodded
permission. "Be back by sundown."

It was so early that the dim gray light still made for uncertain
observation when Ali halted Ben Akbar and dismounted. He bent very near
the earth, unable to see until he did so. The track was here, he had not
erred. Leading Ben Akbar, he followed, slowly at first, then faster as
the strengthening light permitted. From the crest of one hill, he looked
over the top of another and finally saw what he so desperately wanted to
see.

It was the topmost branches of a full-leafed tree, and here, in this
place of no color, it was startling as snow on a naked cliff.

Ali turned his mount and said softly, "Kneel."

The big _dalul_ knelt. Ali crawled forward. On the summit of the hill
over which the tree top appeared, he crouched in a nest of boulders and
verified his preconceived opinion that he would see more than water when
he finally beheld the oasis.

Water there was, a limpid pool, shaded by one great tree and a cluster
of small ones, and seeping underground to bring life to a patch of
grass. Sixty-one horses cropped the grass, and sixty-one Indians lazed
about.

Though he knew where he was and who these men were, Ali felt as he had
when spying on the Druse tribesmen. Even external differences between
burnous-clad Druse and half-naked Indians did not set them so very far
apart. If the Indians were not bent on raiding, there would be women
and children among them. The expedition was the only prize worth the
assembly of so many warriors. At present, they were idling away their
time until a scout reported.

The scout appeared, as Ali was sure he would, from the direction in
which the expedition was encamped. Ali waited for the scout to reach his
companions. When he did and began his report, Ali returned to Ben Akbar.
He rode first toward the camp, so that he was between the warriors and
the expedition. Then he put Ben Akbar up a hill, but not quite over it.
He wanted only to look down on the path taken by the scout and which, by
all reason, should be the path of the warriors.

Presently they appeared, as Ali had prayed they would, and, obviously,
the scout had reported well. In no hurry at all, it was clear that the
Indians knew of the distress in camp. The time to take it was now, with
most of the animals unfit, all of the men uncertain, and some so near
the breaking point that a little more stress would break them. When the
Indians were directly beneath him, Ali spoke to his mount. "Ho! Now!"

Ben Akbar shot over the crest and unhesitatingly did as Ali wished, he
charged the mounted column. The leader, a fiercely painted young warrior
whose thoughts were pleasantly filled with an easy conquest and ample
loot, had time for only one good look before his horse took charge.

The panic spread like wind-driven fire in dry grass. Ali halted Ben
Akbar and gave himself up to complete enjoyment, for indeed it was
enjoyable. Sixty-one horses, as was customary with horses of America,
took instant leave of their senses when confronted by a _dalul_ of
Syria. For the first time since arriving in America, and the last, this
was one unscheduled rodeo for which a camel would never be held to
accounting.

Two hours later, bulging water bags tied wherever Ben Akbar's saddle
offered a buckle or knob to tie one, and two more over his shoulders,
Ali rode back into camp. He halted near Lieutenant Beale, who had just
come in on Sied, and grinned amiably as teamsters snatched at his load
and ran to their parched animals.

When he and Ali were alone, Lieutenant Beale asked, "How did you locate
it, Ali?"

"First," Ali said, "I saw a green tree."

"What next?"

"Then I saw some Indians," Ali reported, "but they all ran away and are
not at the water now. We may go take as much as we need."



12. The Road


When he came to the California bank of the Colorado River, Ali halted
Ben Akbar and surrendered to complete astonishment. Reason told him he
had been this way before, but so drastic were the changes and so little
was as he remembered it, that he challenged reason itself. Ali took a
deep breath and tried vainly to assure himself that this really was
Beale's Crossing where, two years ago and fifty days out of Fort
Defiance, the expedition's work had been successfully completed.

Ali and Lieutenant Beale, on Ben Akbar and Sied, had reached the river
on the seventeenth of October. They were met by a horde of Indians, all
of whom were so deliriously excited at their first sight of camels that
any English they might have known was submerged in the shock. Two days
later, Ali had proved that camels can swim by swimming Ben Akbar across
the Colorado. The rest of the expedition had followed. Some horses and
mules, which the Indians promptly retrieved and ate, were drowned. All
the camels had crossed safely.

Ali's dazed mind strove to reconcile that scene of the past and this
one.

On the opposite bank, where the Indians had grown their corn and melons,
covered wagons with canvas tops that billowed in the little wind that
stirred were lined up as far as the eye could see. Horses, mules and
oxen rested in the traces while awaiting their turn on a ferry that was
presently in mid-river, its cargo a wagon and a six-mule team. Adults
gossiped and children played about the waiting wagons. There was a
barking of dogs, a cackling of fowl, a lowing of cattle, all the noises
that accompany a nation on the march.

Transfixed, Ali could not move. Then the spell that gripped him was
broken by a shout.

"Hey you! Move that blasted camel!"

Glancing toward the ferry, Ali saw the six mules dancing skittishly and
two men trying to quiet them. Ali moved downriver. In some ways, all had
changed and in some, nothing had; camels still panicked livestock.

Presently, Ali halted and turned back to watch, appalled by this monster
that he had somehow helped to spawn. The road had seemed a good thing,
but all the people who would ever use it, or so Ali thought, were not
half as many as the multitude awaiting the ferry.

For a while he sat entranced as a wild deer that cannot turn its eyes
from some fascinating thing, then his flight was sudden as the deer's
when the intriguing but unknown object is abruptly recognized as a
dreaded enemy. Wheeling Ben Akbar, Ali rode downriver at top speed. He
did not dare look around, and he did not think of slackening the pace
until even Ben Akbar could no longer maintain it and slowed of his own
accord. Instantly contrite, Ali drew his mount to a halt.

"I'm sorry, oh brother, that I could let you run so far and fast," he
apologized. "Great fear stole my senses. Perhaps I am becoming craven."

The panting Ben Akbar nosed his arm and accepted and ate a lump of
sugar. Ali dared look back up the river. He heaved a mighty sigh of
relief.

Not only had Ben Akbar run far beyond the sight of any wagons, but far
beyond hearing. Here was only the peaceful river, its tule-lined banks
disturbed by nothing except a horde of waterfowl and an occasional
ripple that marked the wake of a great fish hunting smaller ones in the
shallows.

Ali grinned sheepishly. Certainly there had been no real danger; he had
fled from shadows. Tongues would wag along many caravan routes if it
were known that Hadji Ali had run away from nothing. Just the same, Ali
liked this better. He decided to ride farther down the riverbank before
crossing.

The farther he went, the lonelier it became and the better he liked it.
Presently, his wild flight seemed more amusing than otherwise, and Ali
chuckled throatily, but he had no thought of going back up the river. He
rounded a bend and saw a dwelling.

Built of driftwood and roofed with adobe, it was a one-room affair.
Glassless windows had been cut in such a manner as to admit the morning
sun. An adobe fireplace was built against an outside wall and an adobe
chimney rose a little above the flat roof.

Ali halted Ben Akbar. He was no longer afraid. There had never been
anything about such houses to frighten him. However, if there was any
livestock about, he would avoid argument by circling around. If not, it
was safe to go directly past.

Then a man came from the house and hailed him, "Come on, stranger! Come
on an' light!"

Ali rode ahead to meet a wiry, fierce-eyed man whose uncut hair and long
beard were snow-white, but who fought the advancing years as furiously
as he had once battled advancing Indians. Everything about him, from
his buckskins to the way he had built his house, marked him for what he
was. Here was one of the wild men, who had gone where he wished and done
as he pleased, and never fretted about anything if he had a gun in his
hands and a knife at his belt. Grown too old for such a life, he had
chosen to spend the rest of his days here in this isolated spot.

Ali dismounted and the old man extended his hand. "I'm Hud Perkins an'
you're welcome."

"I'm Hi Jolly." Ali gave the Americanized version of his name.

Hud Perkins said, "I looked out an' saw a man comin' on a camel, I
couldn't believe it! Of course, lots of men come, hardly a week passes
but what somebody goes up or down river, but not on camels. Is he tame?"

"Tamer than he was at one time," Ali answered. "He has been among so
many people that almost anybody can pet him now."

Hud Perkins said, "Don't know as I'd hold with pettin' him, but such a
critter sure makes a man think. On my way out here, I run across a
passel of 'em."

Ali's interest quickened. "You did? Where?"

"On the Heely River," Hud Perkins stated, "an' there wasn't rightly a
passel. There was five, but five such critters look like a passel. Will
yours stay about or do you picket him?"

"He'll stay."

"Then take his gear off an' let him fill up. Plenty of grass hereabouts
an' nary a critter to eat it most times."

Ali removed Ben Akbar's saddle and bridle and the big _dalul_ padded out
to forage. Intrigued by his host's reference to five camels on the Heely
River, Ali straightened to ask for more information and found Hud
Perkins staring at Ben Akbar.

He turned to Ali. "What's wrong with him?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is he good's a horse or mule?"

"Much better," Ali stated.

The old man shook a puzzled head. "That don't hardly jibe with those
camels on the Heely. Wasn't nobody payin' them no mind, 'cept some
heathen Papagoes that was fixin' to eat 'em. I was tempted to ketch one
an' see how it rode, but a cowboy said they wasn't worth ketchin'. The
Army fetched 'em from some place in Texas, he said, an' turned 'em loose
on the Heely on account they was more fuss than worth."

Ali's heart sank at this first news in more than two years of the camels
left behind at Camp Verde, but he told himself that he should have
expected nothing else. He drew some comfort from a quick assurance that
neither Mimico nor Major Wayne could possibly have accompanied any
expedition that would abandon camels. Whoever had loosed those five in
the Arizona desert, where they would certainly find conditions to their
liking, knew nothing of camels and cared less.

Ali said, "Who left those camels did not know what he was doing."

"Might be I ought to have caught me one anyway, eh?"

"You'd have found it worth your while," Ali assured him.

"Well, I didn't an' I don't know as it would of been doin' me or the
camel any favor if I did. Ridin' anythin' don't set like it used to.
Come on in, Hi. I'll rouse up some rations."

Ali walked with the old man to his house and sat down on a wooden bench
while Hud Perkins busied himself preparing fish from the river and
vegetables from his garden. He queried, "If I might ask, where ye been?"

Ali answered, "For the past two years, I've been here in California."

"_Hmm-ph._ Didn't know they landed any such critters out thisaway."

"They didn't," Ali informed him. "Lieutenant Beale brought twenty-five
camels with him when he surveyed the wagon road from Fort Defiance."

"_Wagh!_" Hud Perkins ejaculated. "Then 'tis so!"

"What's so?"

"I heard tell of such when I was leavin' Santa Fe to come here," his
host informed him. "Some fool, 'twas said, was goin' from Fort Defiance
to Californy, usin' camels to lay out a road. Not many believed it. Of
them as did, nobody thought the camels would get a pistol shot from Fort
Defiance."

"It's true," Ali said. "I was with the expedition."

"Well tie that one!" Hud Perkins marveled. "So camels did come to
Californy! What happened to 'em?"

Ali had no immediate answer, for after reaching California, nothing
worthwhile had happened. The camels had been shown in various places,
including Los Angeles, and had attracted the usual onlookers and sparked
the usual stampedes. A few months after arriving, Lieutenant Beale took
fourteen of the animals and started back along the surveyed road.

The rest of the herd, with Ali as keeper, had been sent to and was still
at Fort Tejon, where Army brass amused itself by putting camels through
the usual meaningless paces. Seeing no opportunity for a change, and
with all he could stomach of Fort Tejon, Ali had taken Ben Akbar and
departed.

Ali answered his host, "They're at Fort Tejon."

Hud Perkins snorted. "Don't blame you for leavin', got no use for Army
posts myself. You goin' east?"

"Not all the way," Ali said. "Too far east is no better than too far
west. I think I'll go back along the road. I saw a lot of free country
there."

Hud Perkins was silent for a long while, then he said quietly, "You saw
it two years ago."

"But--" Ali was startled. "It isn't all taken?"

"I don't know," Hud Perkins spoke as a bewildered old man who no longer
knew about anything. "Was a time when I figgered the West'd never settle
an' a man would always find room. But--Anyhow it's two years since I
come out."

Ali asked gravely, "Have there really been so many others?"

His host answered moodily, "I've seen a passel of wagon roads opened up.
Whenever there was one, people boiled along it like water pours out of a
busted beaver dam."

The specter Ali had seen lurking behind the wagons at Beale's Crossing
was again present and again threatened panic.

"Perhaps," he said doubtfully, "I'd better go somewhere else."

"If you can still find such a place," Hud Perkins replied. "Still, like
I said, it's two years since I come out. I could be wrong. Why not find
out?"

"How?" Ali asked.

"Ride back along the road," Hud Perkins advised him. "See for yourself
if it's what you think it is. It's the one way you'll ever know."

Ali said, "I'll do it."

When the leading team of mules swung around the sandy butte, Ali turned
Ben Akbar away from the road. It was somehow different from the numerous
times he'd swung to one side or the other, so that wagons might pass
without the panic that always resulted when livestock met a camel. This
time there would be no turning back.

Ali and his mount were swallowed up in a pine forest before anyone saw
them. Except for the leading mule team, that spooked when they smelled
Ben Akbar's fresh tracks, nobody in the whole train suspected that a
camel had been here.

Riding due south, Ali did not look around even once. Again he was
fleeing, but this time he knew why. At one time, the wagon road had
offered everything he wanted. Now it offered nothing.

The wagons lined up and awaiting their turn on the ferry at Beale's
Crossing had seemed an overwhelming multitude only because there had
been no basis for comparison. After nineteen days on the wagon road, Ali
was able to fit them into their proper niche, one small ripple in a
surging tide. He still did not know how this had come about, although he
could not have believed unless he saw it. Two short years after the
camels had composed the first organized caravan to come this way,
everybody seemed to be following.

Besides an endless stream of wagons on the road, there were ranches
beside it. The flocks and herds that were sure to come some time seemed
to have grown overnight, as though they were mushrooms. There were
homes, villages, towns, even the cities that, Ali had once thought,
might arise after several generations.

Swimming Ben Akbar across the Colorado at Hud Perkins' house, Ali
circled to come back on the road well east of Beale's Crossing--and
found more people. Unwilling to believe what became increasingly evident
and hoping to find even one place that was as it had been, he rode east.
Hope died when he found a village in the very heart of the desert where
the expedition had been lost. The village's source of water was the same
water hole from which Ben Akbar had stampeded the Indians. He rode on
only to find a better place for leaving the road, and now he had left
it.

When he finally halted Ben Akbar and made camp, Ali knew that he had
acted wisely. Once again he was at peace, for, even though the old trail
was closed, nothing was ever lost as long as a new one beckoned. The
next morning, he resumed his southward journey.

The pine forest was long behind him, the desert all about, when Ben
Akbar mounted a hill from whose summit Ali finally saw the Gila River.
He dismounted, standing a bit in front of the big _dalul_ and holding
the camel's rein lightly as he studied that which he had come so far to
see.

Here in the desert, the Gila was sluggish, lazy and silt-laden. It had
nothing in common with the clear and sparkling streams that have
inspired poet and artist alike, but it belonged in this hot desert, even
as the others fitted their rugged valleys. Who could not see beauty in
the Gila, could not see.

For no special reason, Ali glanced at the rein in his hand and a vast
mortification swept over him. While working for the Army, he had never
even thought about certain essential needs because Army pay and rations
provided all he needed. Now he had neither, though food was still no
problem because everybody in this land was happy to share whatever food
he might have. But man could not live by bread alone.

True, not a great deal more was necessary and Ali attached little
importance to his own threadbare clothing and battered shoes. But his
very soul revolted when he looked at Ben Akbar's worn rein, a sorry
thing, unfitted for even the poorest baggage camel. Ali must somehow
contrive to earn some money. But the peace that had come to him when he
finally turned from the wagon road did not desert him when he remounted.
He had come to the Gila with a plan. He would find and catch the
abandoned camels and hire out as packer--and surely packers were
needed. All would be well.

Two days later, in a delightful little haven where the Gila periodically
overflowed its banks and ample water brought luxurious growth, Ali found
the camels. He smiled with happiness when he noted Amir, an old friend
from Camp Verde, and two more old acquaintances in a pair of the young
Camp Verde females. The herd numbered seven and not five, as Hud Perkins
had told him, but Ali remembered that the old man had come this way two
years ago. All five camels he'd seen must have been from Camp Verde. Two
had been killed by something or other--Hud had mentioned Indians--and
the four were Amir's daughters and son.

They watched nervously--and probably would have run if approached by
anyone else. Ali, who knew how to converse with camels, advanced slowly,
talking as he did so.

Amir himself finally trotted forward to renew old friendship.

       *       *       *       *       *

Riding Ben Akbar and trailed by his string of camels, there were eleven
now, Ali did not look back. The eleven would follow, just as they always
followed him. Nor were they at fault because their sorry rewards had
never equalled their unswerving devotion and loyalty.

Maybe nothing was really at fault, but the mine owners to whom Ali had
offered his services and that of his camels were either too poor to hire
any packer; or so rich that they might hire what they chose, and they
chose mules. There was no use in going even near the ranches, camels
terrified cattle, too. Finally, reduced to packing water, Ali found that
those whose need was most desperate were almost never able to pay.
Unable to go on because of maximum expense and minimum income, Ali must
now do the best he could for his baggage animals.

When he came to the meadow on the Gila where he had found the original
seven, he led his herd far into it. Then, still not looking behind, he
whirled Ben Akbar and was off at top speed. Though they would still try
to follow, the baggage camels could not match Ben Akbar's speed for very
long and must soon fall behind.

There must be another journey along a new trail. Ben Akbar's rein was no
longer even a rein, but a piece of rope found at a water hole. His
saddle was falling apart and Ali must do something, but this time he
would.

He had heard of much gold in the northern desert.



13. Reunion


The village of Quartzite was never calculated to overwhelm with
metropolitan sweep or impress with architectural grandeur. Completely
surrounded by the Arizona desert, sometimes it was oddly like a captive
village, a prisoner of the desert. But in a very real sense Quartzite
was a true monument, a tribute to the human beings who first had the
courage to trespass in such a forbidding land and then dared build homes
and live there.

The men gathered at a Quartzite inn varied in various ways, but all bore
the stamp of the desert. Tiny wrinkles etched the eyes of each man, and,
though none were aware of it, even here in the cool and shaded inn,
they squinted. That was something they learned in the desert, where they
faced a blazing sun for hours on end and squinted to shield their eyes,
until the habit became so ingrained that they never forgot to practice
it. The door opened and another man entered. One of those present
greeted him with, "Welcome, stranger!"

The newcomer grinned. "Thought I'd best have me a look at civilization,
been away so long that the other day I found myself talkin' with a pack
rat. Saw the darndest thing when I walked in."

"What?"

"A camel." At once the newcomer was the center of interest. "A big red
camel."

"Go on!" his friend exclaimed.

"It's true," the newcomer insisted. "He's right where Boney Wash crosses
Skull Canyon. Layin' down, he is, like he might be sick or hurt. But
he's there."

The only man present who did not gather around the speaker had been
sitting alone and unnoticed. He rose. An old man with snow-white hair
and beard, there was that about him which spoke of many burdens carried,
and yet he bore the weight of his years with a certain assurance. When
he walked to and opened the door and slipped into the overcast early
spring afternoon, his absence went as unnoticed as his presence had
been.

Ali closed the door behind him. Safe from prying eyes, he quivered with
excitement.

The last arrival was a prospector, one of many original optimists who
constantly roamed the desert, engaged in prodigious labors that were
seldom granted the smallest reward and never once doubted that they had
only to keep on and all the desert's dazzling riches would be yielded up
to them. Recently, he'd been working in hills to the north, and his best
way to Quartzite would be down Skull Canyon.

A red camel, the man had said, lay at the junction of Skull Canyon and
Boney Wash. Ali couldn't remember how many times his own prospecting
trips had taken him up Skull Canyon. He left the village and started to
run, but his legs were no longer capable of running far, so he dropped
back to a walk. The increasingly cooler evening wind, one of various
reasons why Ali had finally turned his back on the desert to live with
generous friends at Quartzite, he scarcely noticed.

He had gone to live at Quartzite six years ago, three years before the
turn of the century and a few days before his seventieth birthday. Ben
Akbar was old too, but even if he'd been welcome in Quartzite, he
wouldn't have been happy there. Ali's last trip into the desert had been
for the sole purpose of taking Ben Akbar to the most isolated spot he
knew--and no man knew more than Ali about the wildest and most
inaccessible areas--and leaving him there.

Escorting camels into the desert and turning them loose was nothing new.
Twenty times in years gone by Ali had thus disposed of beasts he was no
longer able to support. Invariably, however, he either went and got them
again or found some new herd for some new venture. Though not one other
person in the entire Southwest shared his conviction that camels would
eventually triumph--Ali's faith never flickered.

He'd loosed all the camels in the best places he knew. Ben Akbar,
however, was a special case.

Though camels thrived in the desert and might have multiplied, as far as
anyone knew, only camel ghosts had come to the water holes in recent
years. Finding them gentle and easy to approach, Indians and white men
alike killed them for food, and sometimes merely for killing's sake.
Many had been captured and were with various circuses or zoos. Ben Akbar
was both the last to have been in any active and useful service and the
last American camel not in confinement.

There were still rumors of desert-roaming camels, but all such were born
in somebody's imagination and there were no reliable reports. Nor had
there been since Ali loosed Ben Akbar, which might mean that Ali had
succeeded in taking him so far away that nobody had yet found him. Or it
might mean that he was no longer to be found; passing years had
probably not spared the camel any more than the master.

Just before nightfall, the wind lulled and then died down. A bright moon
rode high, lighting the path but softening harsh angles and shadowing
into gentle harmlessness all that was seen as hard and harsh under the
sun's pitiless glare. Presently, every cactus was bedecked in a sparkle
of rare jewels as moonlight glanced from frosty branches. Ali's thoughts
went to a snug cave he knew, plenty big enough for a camel who was no
longer as restless as he once had been.

Ali walked on, resentful of both his necessarily slow pace and a growing
skepticism that came over him as he drew farther from the town and
deeper into the desert. A red camel, the prospector had said, but there
had been several red camels with the herd and there was still seventy
miles of desert to cross before reaching the place where Ben Akbar was
freed. Though there had been a time when seventy miles would have meant
no more than a pleasant jaunt, could an aging Ben Akbar walk so far?

Then Ali came to the junction of Skull Canyon and Boney Wash. He
stopped--and instantly he knew!

At this point, Skull Canyon was about fifty yards from the base of one
rocky wall to the foot of another. Boney Wash had been born when
torrential rains crumbled a rift in the east wall. The flood that had
poured through then had ripped a ragged ditch in the canyon floor.
Above the ditch, the canyon was level, for the most part pebble-strewn,
but here and there was a boulder or copse of cactus. Under the gentle
moonlight, the canyon became gentle.

All four legs curled beneath him and head cushioned against his flank,
apparently Ben Akbar had been on his way down the canyon and had lain
down to rest when forbidding Boney Wash gaped before him. Ali's eyes
softened, for it seemed no accident that on this night the moon should
glow in such a fashion. The Ben Akbar Ali had last seen had shown the
sunken cheeks, shriveled neck, worn teeth and stiffened joints of the
aging. Under the magic moon, the Ben Akbar he met might have been the
proud young _dalul_ he had rescued from the Druse and who, in turn, had
rescued him. Even the many hairs that were no longer red, but white,
could have been sparkling with frost.

Ali went a step nearer and crooned, "I greet thee, oh prince among
_dalul_."

There was a ripple along flanks and ribs, but only after a marked
interval was Ben Akbar able to raise his head. Ali dropped beside him
and eased the proud head into his lap. He stroked it gently.

"We meet again, oh, brother," he murmured. "It is well."

He continued to caress Ben Akbar, and, under the soft moon, a thoughtful
expression came over his face. There had been a very long time and a
very long journey since he had boarded the _Supply_. Now he sat in the
desert, comforting the last remaining camel of all that were brought to
America. How could such an auspicious beginning lead to this end?

The failure could not be charged to the camels. Lieutenant Beale himself
had declared that any one of them was worth any six mules. Then who, or
what, was to blame? Ali considered various explanations that had been
advanced.

Some declared that the entire experiment was fore-doomed by anonymous
but invincible forces interested in perpetuating large profits derived
from horse and mule trading. Their combined strength overwhelmed the
advocates of camel transport. These reports were partly right, Ali
conceded, but not entirely so. He could not imagine Major Wayne or
Lieutenant Beale yielding to the combined power of anything. Anyhow, it
went without saying that these forces had done all they could to prevent
the importation of camels in the first place. They had not succeeded.

It was true that neither Major Wayne nor Lieutenant Beale had been
active in the Camel Corps for years, and Jefferson Davis no longer
mattered after the Confederacy he headed lost the War between the
States. But adverse influence alone had never defeated the camels.

Many contended that the War itself was responsible. Nobody had time for
camels while the battles raged and nobody was interested when peace
came. Another part truth, Ali decided, but by no means a whole truth. To
say that the War between the States doomed camels was as absurd as
declaring it doomed railroads.

Even the popular refusal to accept camels--that sometimes mounted to
flaring resentment against them--was not to blame for their downfall.
That which has practical worth cannot forever remain unnoticed and
camels had proved themselves superior to any other beast of burden.

Ali bent his head and crooned softly in Ben Akbar's ear. The big _dalul_
sighed softly and pressed his chin hard against his friend's knee. Ali
resumed caressing the camel.

What ill wind, he wondered, had blown the day these camels were finally
aboard and the _Supply_ set sail? They had come and they had proven
themselves, but far from any conquest they had found only oblivion. Why?

Ali straightened unconsciously as he thought of the day Lieutenant
Beale's expedition had left Fort Defiance and started west. His mind
became a screen upon which appeared a complete review of every single
day that had followed. Ali lived again, as he had before, the whole
exciting caravan into unknown wilderness.

Then, skipping his two years in California, Ali rode Ben Akbar back to
the Colorado and the massed wagons awaiting ferry transport. There
followed, in complete detail, his return ride over the road. Again he
saw the burgeoning civilization that had overrun a virgin wilderness.
Finally, he knew the right answer, and knowing, must question no more.

The camels had not yielded to any petty thing, but had bowed to a force
so powerful that nothing could stand against it. All the armies of all
the world could bring human progress to no more than a temporary halt,
and not even the swiftest _dalul_ could hope to keep pace with the
breathtaking march of civilization as America knew it. If the camels had
been imported fifty years sooner, or if America had been satisfied to
wait fifty years longer to develop her wilderness, then indeed would all
Americans know the true worth of camels.

As the course was run, most Americans would know camels only as
legendary ships of the desert or exotic imports whose proper abode was
the circus or zoo. Those few who did learn about the Camel Corps, might
hear of it as a glaring example of the hare-brained schemes that may be
dreamed up by scatter-brained people. Nevertheless, Ali was suddenly
happy and again knew a complete peace.

He and Ben Akbar were reunited never to be parted again, and he, at
least, knew the true story of the Camel Corps. Nothing anyone might say
or do could change in the smallest detail what had already been done.
The people who spilled over Lieutenant Beale's wagon road might never
know that the pillars of their churches, the foundations of their
schools, their homes, their very way of life, were anchored on
long-forgotten camel tracks. But they would not be there if camels had
not led the way.

Given only one real opportunity, the camels had contributed more than
their full share. Ali knew finally that, if he might return over the
years and once more look at camels being taken aboard the _Supply_, and
if he might also look ahead and see all the future, he would again do as
he had done and come to America.

The journey had not been in vain. What had seemed to be heartbreaking
failure showed its true colors under the correct light. Triumph was
complete.

Ali stood up. "Rise," he said.

Slowly, Ben Akbar rose to his feet and the two started along the silvery
path together.



JIM KJELGAARD


was born in New York City. Happily enough, he was still in the
pre-school age when his father decided to move the family to the
Pennsylvania mountains. There young Jim grew up among some of the best
hunting and fishing in the United States. He says: "If I had pursued my
scholastic duties as diligently as I did deer, trout, grouse, squirrels,
etc., I might have had better report cards!"

Jim Kjelgaard has worked at various jobs--trapper, teamster, guide,
surveyor, factory worker and laborer. When he was in the late twenties
he decided to become a full-time writer. He has succeeded in his wish.
He has published several hundred short stories and articles and quite a
few books for young people.

His hobbies are hunting, fishing, dogs, and questing for new stories. He
tells us: "Story hunts have led me from the Atlantic to the Pacific and
from the Arctic Circle to Mexico City. Stories, like gold, are where you
find them. You may discover one three thousand miles from home, as in
_Rescue Dog of the High Pass_, or, as in _The Spell of the White
Sturgeon_, right on your own door step." And he adds: "I am married to a
very beautiful girl and have a teen-age daughter. Both of them order me
around in a shameful fashion, but I can still boss the dog! We live in
Phoenix, Arizona."

       *       *       *       *       *

Books by Jim Kjelgaard


    _Big Red_
    _Rebel Siege_
    _Forest Patrol_
    _Buckskin Brigade_
    _Chip, the Dam Builder_
    _Fire Hunter_
    _Irish Red_
    _Kalak of the Ice_
    _A Nose for Trouble_
    _Snow Dog_
    _The Story of Geronimo_
    _Stormy_
    _Cochise, Chief of Warriors_
    _Trailing Trouble_
    _Wild Trek_
    _The Explorations of Pere Marquette_
    _The Spell of the White Sturgeon_
    _Outlaw Red_
    _The Coming of the Mormons_
    _Cracker Barrel Trouble Shooter_
    _The Lost Wagon_
    _Lion Hound_
    _Trading Jeff and His Dog_
    _Desert Dog_
    _Haunt Fox_
    _The Oklahoma Land Run_
    _Double Challenge_
    _Swamp Cat_
    _Rescue Dog of the High Pass_
    _Hi Jolly!_





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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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